by Marc Saint-Cyr
For the third time, the annual Shinsedai Cinema Festival (co-programmed by Midnight Eye co-founder Jasper Sharp and the Pow-Wow's own Chris MaGee) arrived in Toronto and brought an eclectic mix of independent feature films from Japan, offering not only several refreshing alternatives to standard summer movie fare, but also the rare chance to see little-known works that are quite difficult for North American audiences to access. While the festival's weekend (July 21st-24th) was stricken with sweltering temperatures, viewers were able to find relief at Toronto's Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in the form of cool temperatures and entertaining films that ably demonstrated the artistic talents of emerging Japanese filmmakers.
The film that resonated with the most people during the festival was the crowd-pleasing "The Azemichi Road," which won the first Kobayashi Audience Choice Award. Directed by Fumie Nishikawa, who won a prize of $1000 Canadian in addition to the honor of having made the festival's most beloved film, it depicts Yuki (Haruka Oba), a young hearing-impaired girl who turns to hip-hop dancing as a means of finding friends, passion and hope. A Special Mention Award was given to visiting guest Devi Kobayashi for his double bill of comedic films "Mariko Rose the Spook" and "Hikari." An accomplished director and performer, Kobayashi accepted the honor in full costume as his zesty, cross-dressing spirit Mariko Rose, adding a memorable spirit of fun to the ceremony.
Devi Kobayashi dressed as his hilarious character Mariko Rose from "Mariko Rose the Spook"
Other esteemed guests were also present throughout the course of the weekend, including Kiki Sugino, lead actress and producer of the opening night film "Hospitalité" from Koji Fukada; Ryugo Nakamura, the talented director of "The Catcher on the Shore," which he made when he was only fourteen (he is currently fifteen); his producer Yuichi Ide; and Gen Takahashi, who was present for last year's Shinsedai Cinema Festival to present his epic exposé of the Japanese police force, "Confessions of a Dog."
Along with the above-mentioned films were several additional highlights for viewers to experience. Among them were "Shirome," a hilarious faux documentary on J-Pop group Momoiro Clover's spooky tour of a haunted house; a presentation of Torajiro Saito's 1935 silent film "Kid Commotion" with live foley sound effects; "Wandering Home," in which Tadanobu Asano delivers a powerful performance as real-life alcoholic photojournalist Yasuyuki Tsukahahra; the hand-drawn marvel "Midori-ko," which took animator Keita Kurosaka over ten years to make and "KanZeOn," a unique documentary from Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham providing an insightful exploration into Buddhism, Noh Theatre, music and nature.
With all of these films and more featured during its four days, it can certainly be said that the 3rd Shinsedai Cinema Festival was a great cultural event. Since its inauguration, it has greatly succeeded in its aim to bring fresh works to audiences eager to see what Japanese cinema's latest waves are bringing from overseas, and will no doubt continue to enlighten, inspire and entertain eager viewers in the coming years.
Scroll below to view more pictures from the 3rd Shinsedai Cinema Festival:
From left to right: director Gen Takahashi, actress and producer Kiki Sugino, JCCC Executive Director James Heron, director Ryugo Nakamura, producer Yuichi Ide, director and comedian Dev Kobayashi
The nearly-packed Kobayashi Hall before the opening night film "Hospitalité"
Shinsedai Cinema Festival co-programmer Chris MaGee introducing "Hospitalité"
Kiki Sugino introduces "Hospitalité"
One of the festival posters autographed by the visiting guests
The foley set-up for "Kid Commotion"
The foley team who performed the sound effects for "Kid Commotion," led by foley artist Goro Koyama (second from left)
Chris MaGee and Devi Kobayashi cool off from Toronto's heat wave