No sooner has one Japanese film festival finished in the UK than another begins. Yes, its that time of year again when the Japan Foundation UK prepares to launch its annual touring programme, and as usual I’ve been onboard as programme advisor.
I’m more excited about this year’s than I’ve been in some time because the theme is not so constraining as it has been in previous years. Entitled Back to the Future: Japanese Cinema Since the Mid-90s, what we’ve aimed to do this time round is simply showcase some of the most important filmmakers of the past 20 years, the major names who have emerged after the time when everyone was pronouncing Japanese cinema more or less dead. This was a great trip down memory lane for me, back to the time when we started off Midnight Eye over ten years ago and began championing the likes of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, who were at the time virtually unheard of outside of Japan.
The aim was to take a couple influential directors active in the early 1990s (Kurosawa and Miike), a handful who hit their stride in the early part of the new millennium (Isao Yukisada, Isshin Inudo and Nobuhiro Yamashita) and two to watch for now (Yuya Ishii and Yuki Tanada). This gave us a far broader and more varied pool of films to select from than usual, and a great chance to reintroduce the big names that got me into Japanese film in the first place.
It was important to remember that though I and other Japanese film fans might be well versed in the works of, for example, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, it is fair to assume that most of the British public probably aren’t, and so opportunities to catch Cure on the big screen are rare things indeed, and it is all the more amazing when you realise that one of the most influential and effective films in the J-Horror genre has never been released on DVD over here. Similarly, while there was a phase in the early 2000s when seemingly Miike only had to fart and it would get put out on DVD, one of the titles that got missed was also, in my opinion, one of his most impressive, The Bird People in China. And then there were brilliant titles like Isao Yukisada’s Go, which made a huge impact at the time, but never got picked for overseas distribution because companies like Tartan were swamping the market with its ‘Asia Extreme’ crap and alienating a whole generation from Japanese film. Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a great example of this sort of thing – a film that did the festival rounds and impressed most who saw it, but it never really went anywhere in terms of DVD distribution. Inudo and Yukisada were two of the most profitable directors working in the Japanese industry during the past decade, yet they’re virtually unknown in the West.
So without the constraints of the themes of the previous years (the family in Japanese film, women in Japanese film etc), this years’ programme more simply gave us a chance just to select good films, entertaining crowd-pleasers that represent the very best of the past twenty year that haven’t been shown widely in the UK before. Even then, there were a few surprises about what was actually available. Its funny, but you think that films that the late-90s and or early-2000s were fairly recent in terms of the broad sweep of cinema history, but I was amazed by the number of titles we looked at where the only subtitled prints were too poor condition to screen or the original production company had gone bankrupt and the current rightsholders were unknown. There are a lot of pretty major titles from the past decade will probably never see light of a projector again. Shocking.
The season kicks off at the ICA on 4 February and runs for 9 days before heading to a number of other cities: Belfast, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Bristol and Sheffield.
Before its opening, I’ll be giving an introduction to the season on 27 January from 6.30pm at the Japan Foundation, so please come along. Its free, although you need to inform them you are coming an advance, and it will be a great chance to talk with me and others about Japanese cinema and this year’s programme – and you get a free glass of wine at the end (maybe two or three if you’re quick!)
Details of my talk can be found on the Japan Foundation website here.
Details of the season are here, but I’m also pasting them below (you’ll note in my last post I mentioned “wrestling with WordPress” – apologies for the formatting below, but it is simply not doing what I am asking it, damn it!) :
From the Japan Foundation Website
This year’s Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme focuses on the marked resurgence of Japanese cinema from the mid 1990s onwards. Including established names such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa as well as up-and-coming talent Yuya Ishii, the featured directors have carved a new path for the future and contributed to the recent success of Japanese cinema around the world. Showcasing a great breadth of creativity, the 2011 line-up offers UK audiences an insight into a pivotal period which changed the landscape of Japanese cinema and provided the industry with a new lease of life.
2011 Film line-up:
Linda Linda Linda
Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan 2005 (114min, 35mm, subtitles)
Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan 1997 (115min, 35mm, subtitles)
Dir: Isao Yukisada, Japan 2001 (122min, 35mm, subtitles)
Sawako Decides (Kawano Sokokara Konnichiwa)
Dir:Yuya Ishii, Japan 2009 (112min, 35mm,subtitles)
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Joze To Tora To Sakana Tachi)
Dir: Isshin Inudo, Japan 2003 (116min, 35mm, subtitles)
One Million Yen Girl (Hyakumanen To Nigamushi Onna)
Dir: Yuki Tanada, Japan 2008 (121min, 35mm, subtitles)
The Bird People in China (Chugoku No Chojin)
Dir: Takashi Miike, Japan 1998 (102min, 35mm subtitles)
Date: 4 February 2011 – 28 March 2011
4 – 13 February ICA Cinema, London
21 – 24 February Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast
4 – 10 March Filmhouse, Edinburgh
11 – 16 March Broadway, Nottingham
18 – 20 March Arnolfini, Bristol
22 – 28 March Showroom Workstation, Sheffield