I had a lot of fun this Saturday, with the UK launch of Momoko Ando’s Kakera taking place at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and distributor Adam Torel of Third Window Films laying on a really great shindig after the screening. This wasn’t the official UK premiere, as the film was the centrepiece of my Japanese Women Filmmakers special programme at Raindance last year, which was in actual fact the world premiere. Instead, this event was billed as the Special Gala Opening, before it begins a longer run at the ICA from April 2nd and goes on to play selected venues across the country, and I’m delighted to say that, as with the Raindance showings, it was really well attended and it was great to see Momoko back in the country again.
Unusually, the film is being released more or less simultaneously in London and Tokyo, so Momoko has already jetted back for the Japanese opening. Anyway, I was present at the ICA to conduct an interview for the forthcoming DVD release and to moderate the Q&A after the screening, which I thought went great; there were a lot of interesting, intelligent questions from a lively audience (especially from members of the Coventry East Asian Film Society, who were there en masse), and the director gave us some fascinating insights into some of the personal experiences that worked their way into the film. All in all, a big success, and a great time was had by all.
There’s going to be an interview with Momoko and a review of the film popping up on Midnight Eye any day now to tie in with the UK theatrical run, and it will also be playing at Nippon Connection in Frankfurt mid-April (and presumably other festivals after that), but if its not coming to a cinema near you, then the DVD is already up for pre-order on Amazon, and is released on June 21st.
Third Window has also announced it has acquired Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story for the UK, which was in many of the other Midnight Eye critics Top Tens from last year. I have to confess I still haven’t seen it, but along with the rest of all us London-dwellers, I’ll get a chance in May at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival held at the Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square, along with a whole host of other top titles from 2009, including Mamoru Hosoda’s acclaimed anime Summer Wars. Oh yes, these are good times for Asian film fans in the UK…
While it was great to see Momoko back in London again, I should add that it was only a couple of weeks ago that I last saw her in Tokyo, along with all the other guests that came to Raindance, firstly at another great bash in Tokyo kindly organised by Yoshihiro Ito, director of the sublime shorts package Vortex and Others, then secondly at a post-screening screening panel discussion for Yasunobu Takahashi’s Locked Out, which after touring various international festivals last year had just been released at the new Roppongi Cinemart, on a double bill with another great indie title that has screened quite extensively worldwide, Nobuyuki Miyake’s Lost & Found.
A quick bit about the Cinemart. There’s been a lot of negative murmurings over the past year or so about the current state of the Japanese film industry, namely the dominance by the major studios, in particular Toho, and the prevalence of tried and tested formulas such as TV and manga adaptations, idol vehicles and the like, but this new venue is quite a find, and apparently part of a minor chain with others venues in Shinjuku and Shinsaibashi too. Stuck in the heart of Tokyo’s gaijin stronghold of Roppongi, it boasts several screens (I think there were three but I can’t remember exactly) pretty much dedicated to screening lower-budget or independently-produced films, mainly Japanese made, but also from other Asian countries, most notably South Korea, as well as other international art films. I’m trying to imagine how a similar enterprise in London might fare, devoted to British and Irish works, but somehow I can’t imagine it being as well-attended as it was for the late screening I caught of Locked Out. This is what I love about the Japanese industry; just when you think its dying out or has reached a lull, there’s some new development that emerges that completely catches you off-guard. One of the main problems that Japanese filmmakers have faced over the last five years or so is the bottleneck in getting their films actually out there to the general public. There was no shortage of interesting work being made, just a shortage of screens on which to get them out there. And I’m also heartened by the fact that there’s clearly a local audience out there for it too.
The other thing that really hit me this trip out to Japan was the vast leap in the quality of recent indie jishu eiga releases. There’s barely any of the self-indulgent approach to storytelling and amateurish shaky handicam stylistics that dominated much of the sector’s output a few years ago. Both Locked Out and Lost & Found are really slickly made, well acted, well lit, and beautifully shot using HD cameras, and they both tell solid stories in a nicely-paced, self-contained format. In a nutshell, they are both really professional pieces and their directors are certain to go along way in the industry. After also recently catching Yosuke Okuda’s polished and energizing youth-on-the-rampage movie Hot as Hell, which won the Grand Prix in the Off Theatre section of Yubari and Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s retro-looking environmental thriller Island of Dreams, which scooped up a number of awards at last year’s PIA Film Festival, it is clear to me that there are some great new directors emerging and Japanese cinema is once more in the midst of a quiet but highly significant indie revolution, and its going to be fascinating to see where it’s all going to take us.
Anyway, the Locked Out panel discussion made for a lovely penultimate night during my Japan trip, as it took place between Yasunobu Takahashi, A Normal Life Please director Tokachi Tsuchiya and Momoko Ando, all three friendly faces from their trip to London last October for Raindance – there was much natsukashii sentiment in the air as Takahashi-san presented a 10-minute video diary he had shot during Raindance, which was quite a shock as I hadn’t exactly anticipated seeing my face projected large onto the screen, and was content to sit discreetly hidden in corner, before being invited out front to say a few words on the state of recent indie productions in Japan. A great coda to my stay, and I wish all three a great future in the industry – they’ve certainly all got the talent for it!