Author: Ben Dimagmaliw

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25 Japanese Directors Talk Pandemic and Looking Ahead

As 2021 opened much of the entertainment industry was still reeling from the impact brought on by the pandemic. Though productions are once again ramping up, they have to do so under strict safety protocols issued by labor unions and respective film commissions in the locales filming takes place. Meanwhile, the exhibition industry which bore the brunt of damage is still facing challenges of delayed release schedules, being circumvented by digital releases, and local safety protocols. Similarly, film festivals have had to adapt to the pandemic by formulating new ways to hold their events–those which could–though it remains to be seen whether they will be able to return to pre-pandemic operations in the near future. Reflecting on these as well as learning about movies which were filmed about or around the pandemic led to a desire to ask Japanese filmmakers two questions: 1.How did the pandemic in 2020 impact the work with which you are involved or productions you are or will be working on? 2.Moving forward, in other words a world “post-COVID,” has this …

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Taste of Emptiness

High schooler Satoko lives a comfortable life surrounded by kind parents and close friends. An ever so small uneasiness begins to grow in her life. It’s an indescribable anxiety, and impulses she can not prevent. Satoko realizes that at some point she has become mired in an eating disorder. Not knowing the reason why, Satoko’s anxiety grows and steadily traps her as her relationship with family and friends also grow strained. Then one day in town she happens upon a dangerous seeming woman, Maki. Her interactions with Maki is a release for Satoko. Based on director Tsukada Marina’s actual experiences of suffering an eating disorder while a university student, her debut feature deals with a sadly universal problem throughout the world. But the movie does not aim to dwell on the disorder nor the motivations which engendered it. Though the heroine’s anguish is very much Tsukada’s own, she hoped to draw focus on what turned her on the path to recovery. As it turns out, she met a woman on whom the character of Maki …

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Red Snow

Thirty years ago, a young boy disappeared amid mysterious circumstances involving a sociopath, her troubled daughter, and a devastating fire. Today, what is known of the tragedy is shrouded in a morass of clouded and fictionalised memories, stubborn silence, and well-rehearsed lies. When a journalist arrives intent on getting to the bottom of the long-closed case, a tinderbox of pent-up emotions and misplaced guilt ignites; a spiral of violence erupts from the clash of competing histories and debilitating psychological injuries. (Int’l FF Marrakesh) The first thing one will notice about Red Snow is its distinctive palette and cinematography. At face value this accomplishes to provide the crime-centered story a noir aesthetic, but it is also safe to say this director who originally worked in the short film format and in video art was also looking to visualize the muddled nature of human memory at the core of the characters’ psyche also essential to noir. Strong thematics and powerful imagery have been a hallmark for Kai who has co-directed several acclaimed short movies, while her solo directorial shorts have …

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Life: Untitled

On the fourth floor of an anonymous building, the lives of female escorts intersect as they wait for calls from their customers. Kano (Sairi Ito) has just joined the group. Quickly disillusioned, she nonetheless sticks around as an employee, managing bookings, cleaning up, and bearing witness to the lives of her coworkers. An eclectic group of women gravitate around the place, their lives “yet to be titled”, yet full of unspoken dreams, desires, heartbreaks and rivalries – all repressed in the face of the everyday misogyny inherent to the trade, and to Japanese society. (Fantasia Film Festival) There are more than a few reviews of Yamada Kana’s debut feature which reference the legendary filmmaker Mizoguchi Kenji in comparing how it differs from the “tradition” of brothel-set movies in Japanese cinema, specifically in how it portrays sex workers with dignity despite their lower social status and stigma of their profession. Other genres have served up the hooker, the call girl, etc. for more exploitive purposes. As Japan Cuts writes: “Portraying an industry frequently exploited in Japanese media …

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Mrs. Noisy

A once successful novelist, Maki (Shinohara Yukiko), moves into a new apartment hoping it’s the change she needs to get herself out of her writing slump. However, every time she seems on the verge of an inspired breakthrough, she is violently interrupted by her neighbor’s furious beating of the futons. Day and night, the incessant thwacking drives Maki past annoyance and well into an all-out rage. She confronts the neighbor, Miwako (Ootaka Yoko), and the seemingly small argument snowballs into a fight that gets caught on camera. The video goes viral on social media, and the two inadvertently get caught up in a media storm. But in the ensuing fallout, Maki gets an idea for a novel. (Japan Foundation) The timing for Amano Chihiro’s movie couldn’t have been more appropriate, hence its success with audiences both on the domestic and international film festival circuit. The story is a simple microcosm the themes of which viewers realize are applicable in various facets of their life and even on a much broader scope. More importantly, it shows how …

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Not So Breaking News

2020 has been a year for the books. Aside from the political and social elephants in the room, this year will go down in memory as completely unique, full of unexpected developments which have not been experienced in the past. As this pertains to Indievisual, the impact of the pandemic were twofold. First, the outset of COVID-19 put a stop to the entertainment industry, from film festivals to theatrical releases. With productions as well grinding to a halt, the very lifeblood of Indievisual also came to a standstill. Second, the circumstances removed the need for translation services causing –much like the rest of the world at the time–substantial professional insecurity. In mid-April, the Japan central government itself declared a state of emergency in lieu of a lockdown which it lacked the authority to impose as per its constitution. Anxiety deepened over whether the Japanese film industry would recover, and accordingly whether there would be any translation work for the remainder of the year. Then an odd thing happened. A month later, the state of emergency …