Yes, it’s that time of year again, as the Japan Foundation UK’s touring season looms upon us once more. I’ve already put some information up about it in the ‘events’ section of this website, detailing where its going and when it’s going there, and there are also details on the Japan Foundations website.
The season is the Japan Foundation’s most ambitious yet, with a total of nine films travelling to seven venues across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland (but not that other place) between 10 February to 28 March 2012. This year’s title is ‘Whose Film Is It Anyway? Contemporary Japanese Auteurs’, and the films have all been selected because they are directed from original scripts, not adaptations of books or manga, or TV tie-ins. We thought it was an important theme, because when you look at the list of top-grossing Japanese films of recent years, it seems to be dominated by TV spin-offs such as the Umizaru, Boys Over Flowers and Rookies films. It seemed a particularly good time to celebrate the auteur, and also extol the virtues of originality rather than tried and tested formulas – something worth remembering given the various debates that raged a couple of weeks back vis-a-vis David Cameron’s comments outlining his ideas for the British film industry as touched upon in my previous post (although it now seems these might have been slightly misreported).
The series kicks off in London at the ICA on 11 February and will run there until 16 February – the full programme of the London screenings is given here. In order to launch the season, the Japan Foundation will be holding a special event on 9 February at their Russell Square premises, with the director Masayuki Suo in conversation, talking about his filmmaking methods to mark our screenings of his last work, I Just Didn’t Do It (Soredemo boku wa yattenai), a damning indictment of the Japanese judicial system.
I’m particularly honoured and excited to be conducting this onstage interview with one of Japan’s most internationally-acclaimed directors, because as I frequently tell anyone who asks me, it was his wonderful ballroom comedy Shall We Dance? that provided one of my early epiphanies about Japanese film, which resulted in my leaving the humdrum security of office life and heading over to Japan to study its cinema (You can read the whole story in this piece I wrote for J-Film Powwow a couple of years back. I’ve never met Suo before, but I do know I love his films, and that in this particular case, they’ve had a life-changing effect on me. It still brings a tear to my eye, this beautiful film (and this is from someone who can’t bare to be in the same room as BBC Saturday night talent show Strictly Come Dancing).
The Japan Foundation has two guests over this year, the second being Katsumi Sakaguchi, whose gritty Sleep (Nemuri yusurika), a docudrama about prostitution and sexual dysfunction, presents an altogether more challenging aspect of ‘auteurist cinema’ than Suo’s films. Chairing what I am sure will be a fascinating discussion with the director at the Japan Foundation on Monday 13 February 2012 (from 6.30pm ) is the critic Roger Clarke, writer for The Independent and Sight & Sound among other things.
I should be there for much of the first weekend at the ICA introducing the various films, so look forward to seeing you there. As for the two events at the Japan Foundation, both are free to attend but booking is essential. To reserve a place, please email your name and the title of the event you would like to attend to firstname.lastname@example.org.