The movies of Kumasaka Izuru have always seemed to gravitate toward stories about the relationships between unlikely people. In his triple 2005 Pia Award winning debut short film, Coffee and Milk, a 6th grader falls in love with and tries to help a deaf woman 12 years his senior through his photography…and fails. The wins granted him the opportunity to make his debut feature through the Pia Scholarship Program, Asyl: Park and Love Hotel. In it, women from various walks of life form bonds as they find solace at a Japanese love hotel which strangely features a park at its rooftop where residents of the surrounding community have always visited to find respite from urban, Tokyo life–hence the word “asyl” in the title which is German for “sanctuary” or “oasis”. Kumasaka’s handling of these character dynamics garnered him the Best First Feature Award at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival instantly marking him as “one to watch.”
He answered those expectations with LiLOU’s adventure, his second independent feature. The story seems like classic Kumasaka. Set on Okinawa, Lilou, a fifth grader of half-Guinean descent, is the outsider of her class. Her only friend is her classmate, Kokoro, because they both share the same sense of loneliness. When Kokoro stops smiling because she loses the ability to dream, Lilou decides to restore dreams and laughter back to her friend and that is when Kokoro goes missing. Thus begins Lilou’s surreal and life changing adventure. Utilizing two girls without prior acting experience, Kumasaka apparently managed to create another vibrant tale depicting a natural friendship between two young girls. It won the Grand Prize and International Critics’ Prize at the 6th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival as well as earning screenings at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival, among others.
And then Kumasaka seemed to go “quiet”, at least on the international stage. He has since become a “working director,” taking on projects such as two movies in the Werewolf Game series and serving as the chief director for the late-night television romance series, ‘You’re My Pet’. One can only hope the work he is doing will give him the means to turn his attention toward one of his own scripts again. He had actually won the Tokyo Project Gathering Award at the 2009 TIFFCOM for a project called “Secrets on the Table”(*), and unless that project turned into LiLOU’s adventure, he has material for a new movie. However, stable income can sometimes, understandably, lure filmmakers away from the risks of making the movies they want, especially in Japan, so fingers are crossed “Secrets on the Table” or something else will materialize in the future.