The dust has settled, the guests have all departed, and here I am sitting home alone mulling over how it all went. Yes, Raindance Film Festival is over for another year, and after a reasonably slow start, exploded into one of the busiest I’ve ever attended. As I posted last week, virtually every single screening was sold out on the Wednesday. Amazing! And it didn’t really let up after that… And what with all the late night drinking, meaning not getting home till at least 3-4am on most nights after negotiating the labyrinthine night-bus routes trying to work out how to get to my new home from various different parts of the city, I’m physically and mentally shattered. But I’m in high spirits nonetheless, as I know that I and all the other guests from Japan will be returning to our respective routines having made new friends, nurtured new ideas about the future and emerged from that great chemistry of minds that always occurs when you have creative, talented people from so many different backgrounds assembled in one place for such a reasonably long but intense period. So anyway, over the next few days, before I head down to Bristol for the Shohei Imamura retrospective at the Arnolfini, I intend to make good my original promise and actually write a bit about the festival – only not while its actually happening, of course, but by way of a series of retroactive looks at the high points of the past week or so.
One person who should be returning from Raindance very happy is Tokachi Tsuchya, proud recipient of the Best Documentary Award for A Normal Life Please (the Japanese title, Futsu no shigoto o shitai translates more directly as ‘I’d like a proper job’, a sentiment I certainly share at times!). And a much-deserved win it was too, for sure, but still a really pleasant surprise for me, as foreign language documentaries generally have to try so much harder with English language audiences, and chances for most people to see them are rare. Tsuchiya’s work was literally born out of his own blood, sweat and tears – he was assaulted several times during the making of his film, his glasses broken, cigarettes stubbed out on his hands, his camera grabbed etc, most evident during the film’s stand-out sequence when the heavies hired by the employers of truck driver Kaikura’s arrive at his mother’s funeral to intimidate him to leave his worker’s union. (I loved it when Tsuchiya said he was terrified that when the film screened in Japan, his nemesis Kudo might turn up with his gang and wreak their revenge).
Tsuchiya seemed particularly moved when he received the award, saying that not only was it his first trip to England, but also it was the first time he’d ever received an award (handed out this time by our wonderful guest and jury member, Momoko Ando). As he explained in the very animated q&a after the screening, not only did the whole concept of labour unions originate in England, but also their dark flipside in the form of Thatcher’s deregulation policies of the 1980s, which have had a profound influence on Japanese government policy, hence the large number of people working themselves to death in Japan and freelancers like Kaikura busting his guts for a mind-boggling 300 hours a month for really only the most basic of wages – I think his monthly take home pay was less than the equivalent of around 1500 pounds. The film’s airing was particularly timely in the UK, in light of our current economic situation necessitating severe economic belt tightening all round, specifically in the public sector (though I can tell you from my own situation as a freelance writer, pay rates have dropped so low that I might as well be working at MacDonalds) and the recent contraversial announcement by the postal workers union that they’re about to go on strike. One really gets the impression that the whole free market system that’s been pushed so far over the past few decades, in which the number agencies, sub-contractors, consultancy firms, advisors etc involved in every industry has expanded so much and the people at the bottom of the pile actually doing the work pushed to ever longer hours in increasingly poor working conditions, is reaching breaking point, and one has to wonder where it’s all heading. Tsuchiya’s film provoked a lot of discussion while exposing a particularly ugly side of Japanese industry that is near unbelievable for one of the richest countries in the world. I really hope more people get a chance to see it. It’s about as vital a piece of filmmaking as it gets.
I should also say a big thanks at this juncture to Yuri Kubota and those kind folks at Nippon Connection for preparing a subtitled version of this for festival screenings. This is a film that really needs to be seen by as many people as possible. I grabbed a pretty interesting interview with Tsuchiya-san too, which will appear on Midnight Eye sometime in the not so distant future, while in the meantime Japanese readers might be interested in taking a look at the film’s homepage. For now however, keep your eye out for other posts here in the not so distant future about some of the other titles we screened.