My article on the new wave of Japanese women filmmakers is now online on the Japan Times website, just in time to tie in with my Raindance programme, as is my interview with Atsuko Ohno, organiser of Peaches festival, from which we’re screening 3 films. Thankfully, someone at the paper came up with a decent title for the piece, because I’d been racking my brains all year, not just for this article, but for a general angle for the Raindance focus as well. I mean, how do you sell this idea? You either go the Orientalist route, say, something like “Cameras and Kimonos”, “The Chrysanthemum and the Camera”,”Not Just Cherry Blossoms” or something similarly banal, or take the condescendingly sexist approach – “Japanese Sisters are Doing it For Themselves”, “Girls in Film” … you catch my drift.
After all, should we be really surprised that women have been the guiding hand behind some of the most interesting Japanese films of the past few years? Is it really different from the situation here in the UK? I mean, I was looking through this year’s London Film Festival line-up this year, and there seemed to be a fair few woman directors listed there. Are films by women so different from those by men?
Well, these are all discussion points of course, but a couple of facts remain. Firstly, I don’t think I could have put together a 6-slot focus on Japanese women directors quite so easily, say, ten years ago. Secondly, I gave a talk about this very subject at the Japan Foundation UK last summer, and someone came up to me afterwards and said that when she told her friend she was off to a lecture on Japanese women directors, her friend said “ That will be a cosy ten minutes then” – it seems a lot of people, at least in this country, have assumptions about the roles of and opportunities for women in Japanese society that a more than cursory look at the facts would overturn. Thirdly, I should point out that it wasn’t really particularly hard to find enough films for it this year. I went through the usual procedures of drawing up a shortlist of the best titles of the past year, and half of the directors happened to be women, so it was just a case of adding some older names to the mix, of women who’ve been in the industry long enough to remember the days when their gender was an issue, such as Sachi Hamano and Naomi Kawase, and the programme pretty much formed itself.
The fact is though, this section could have been much bigger – there were plenty of other suitable titles out there from the last year, like Tsuki Inoue’s Autumn Adagio, covered recently by Tom on Midnight Eye, Satoko Yokoyama’s Bare Essence of Life, playing Vancouver and London film festivals very soon (I personally didn’t like it, but I know it has its fans), or Shimako Sato’s recent cult fantasy K20 Legend of the Mask, which certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a “woman’s picture”. It would also have been nice to delve back in time and add some historical landmarks, like Kinuyo Tanaka’s films, which have hardly been shown at all in recent years, although locating prints and negotiating affordable screening fees was something of an issue here.
Its obvious though, that if one wanted to do a fuller retrospective on Japanese women filmmakers, there’s no shortage of material to draw upon. It’s probably the right time to do it too, because it seems obvious to me that if recent years are anything to go by, future Japanese film programmes will feature an equal mix of male and female directors without any such need for making an issue about it.
Anyway, as the fest draws ever nearer, I should mention that we’ll have a healthy showing of guests to accompany this Japanese section; Yumiko Beppu, director of Csikspost from the Peaches selection has said she’ll be over, as will Sachi Hamano, whom I’ve written lots about in my book Behind the Pink Curtain, and her scriptwriter for Lily Festival, Kuninori Yamazaki – I’m really looking forward to talking to these guys. Also Yasunobu Takahashi, director of Locked Out, and Tokachi Tsuchiya, of A Normal Life Please. But most exciting, is that we’re getting the world premiere of Kakera, and not only will director Momoko Ando be over, but the musician who scored her film too – James Iha, best known for his stellar guitar work for Smashing Pumpkins. It all promises to be quite the party.