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 was lifted and almost as quickly, commissions for translation work began arriving. Summers are usually rather quiet in terms of work, but suddenly the summer of COVID became the busiest ever with multiple contracts overlapping one another. The tight schedules necessitated an important decision be made. Indievisual, as a side project, had to be completely put on the back burner; this was the best way to assure the quality of either. Thinking of writing for Indievisual only distracted from work others were paying to have done. But as work progressed, the film industry also began coming back to life. Festivals pivoted to adapt to COVID-19, while once-delayed productions resumed again. Catching up with these and other items of interest which occurred while Indievisual was on pause is the intention of this feature.
Just after the Berlin International Film Festival closed, the spread of COVID-19 worldwide placed serious doubt on the rest of the freshly started festival season. The cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival essentially signaled the festival year would not continue as normal. Many others also had to cancel based on regional circumstances, while others either postponed hoping for the quelling of the pandemic or looked for methods to adapt, whether that meant stepping up COVID-19 preventative measures, conducting the festival online, or a hybrid approach. Asia and Japan’s autumn film festivals had time to look at how festivals earlier in the year would proceed with their events while planning their own. Each of the following festivals adapted in their own ways to continue providing a platform for filmmakers and their creations.
SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL
Despite being a champion of digital cinema which has been screening movies in 4K, this year’s 17th edition was the first to be held online, albeit as a matter of necessity. The move allowed organizers to provide its normal slate of 24 movies selected from a record 1,169 entries. As it has year after year, the 2020 program offered a wide variety of Japanese independent features and shorts. Following is a rundown of those titles with links to their page on the festival’s website.
Woman of the Photographs (dir. Kushida Takeshi)
Impressions of this movie from its Osaka Asian Film Festival screening earlier in the year can be found here: https://read.indie-visual.net/indie-forum-2020/#womanphoto
Japanese Feature Competition
Arano (dir. Hasegawa Tomofumi)
B/B (dir. Nakahama Kosuke)
Cornflakes (dir. Isobe Teppei)
Kontora (dir. Anshul Chauhan)
The Rain’s Ark (dir. Senami Kao)
Japanese Short Competition
Axandax (dir. Niwa Keita)
Limelight (dir. Wakaba Ryuya)
Muito Prazer (dir. Park Jengil)
Payment (dir. Miyabe Kazuyuki)
Radio (dir. Shiono Shumpei)
Ritsuko & Ken-chan (dir. Omori Ayumi)
Sitting at an Angle (dir. Kishi Ayaka)
Stay (dir. Fujita Naoya)
Then I add Colors to a Panda and a Zebra (dir. Takeda Karin)
Tokyo International Film Festival 2020
Having participated in the We Are One: A Global Film Festival streamed through YouTube in late May/early June, the Tokyo International Film Festival opted to hold a physical event for its 33rd edition under strict COVID-19 infection prevention protocols. However, symposiums and discussion events with guests would be hosted online. Additionally, the program would consolidate its competition sections into a single lineup titled Tokyo Premiere 2020, an obvious nod to Cannes’ move to brand its cancelled Official Selection as Cannes 2020. Therefore, this year’s festival lacked a dedicated Japanese Cinema Splash section. Aside from a showcase of Fukada Koji’s filmography featured in the Japan Now section, these are the Japanese selections in the Tokyo Premiere 2020. (links to the official festival pages provided.)
Come and Go (dir. Lim Kah Wai)
Company Retreat (dir. Funahashi Astushi)
Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots (dir. Yoshino Ryohei)
First Job (dir. Koyama Syunsuke)
Hold Me Back (dir. Ohku Akiko)
Mr. Suzuki-A Man In God’s Country (dir. Sasaki Omoi)
Sasaki in My Mind (dir. Uchiyama Takuya)
In the Special Screenings section there was It’s a Summer Film directed by Matsumoto Soushi. And Shochiku/Kadokawa’s animated Josee, the Tiger and the Fish by first time feature director Tamura Kotaro
Finally, the following movies were selected for the World Focus section.
Along the Sea (dir. Fujmoto Akio)
True North (dir. Eiji Han Shimizu)
Changing venues and moving up two weeks earlier than usual, this year’s Tokyo FILMeX went forward with a physical event as it formed a relationship with the Tokyo International Film Festival similar to that between the Cannes Film Festival and Directors’ Fortnight, the latter held independently within the framework of the Cannes Film Festival. The twelve competition movies included the following Japanese works (with links to the official festival page):
A Balance (dir. Harumoto Yujiro)
The Blue Danube (dir. Ikeda Akira)
The fourth feature length movie by the director of the highly acclaimed Anatomy of a Paper Clip (2013) was awarded the festival’s Special Jury Prize.
Okinawa Santos (dir. Matsubayashi Yoju)
The long-awaited new documentary from Matsubayashi Yoju of The Horses of Fukushima (2013).
Any Crybabies Around (dir. Sato Takuma)
Sato Takuma’s theatrical debut world premiered in-competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival.
Special Screening titles include the opening film, Manda Kunitoshi’s latest Love Mooning, as well as two massive works. The first is Hara Kazuo’s Minamata Mandala (tackling the same pollutant disease as the Johnny Depp starrer Minamata) a documentary clocking in at 369 minutes; and The Work and Days (in the Shiotani Basin) co-directed by C.W. Winter and Anders Edström. The story of a woman struggling to work hard as she cares for sick husband in a remote mountain village in Kyoto unfolds over its 480 minute runtime which at first glance looks to be a documentary were it not for the appearances of Kase Ryo and Motoki Masahiro.
Busan International Film Festival
Meanwhile, the Busan International Film Festival was postponed by two weeks and downsized its program considerably by cancelling events which would have invited crowds to gather including the opening and closing ceremonies, parties, and receptions. It also suspended all international press and guest invitations while shifting business activities and the Asian Film Awards online. Screenings became the focus in capacity capped theaters where Q&As for non-Korean movies were conducted remotely. However, the film program remained as varied as in previous years. In addition to Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Wife of a Spy, and the previously mentioned A Balance, Japanese titles of interest programmers selected for this edition included (click links to read the official festival page for the films):
All the Things We Never Said (dir. Ishii Yuya)
Living in the Sky (dir. Aoyama Shinji)
Soirée (dir. Sotoyama Bunji)
The Asadas (dir. Nakano Ryota)
True Mothers (dir. Kawase Naomi) which was a Cannes2020 Selection
Kushida Takeshi‘s Woman of the Photographs won the Best Storytime Feature Narrative at Italy’s Nòt Film Fest 2020. It also took home the SKIP CITY Award at the 2020 SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL.
Other Japanese award winners at the 2020 SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL include Anshul Chauhan‘s Kontora for Best Picture in the Japanese Feature Competition. His second feature is racking up accolades wherever it plays, much like his previous work Bad Poetry Tokyo. Best Picture in the Japanese Shorts Category was awarded to Fujita Naoya’s Stay. Audience Awards in the Japanese feature and shorts competitions respectively went to Isobe Teppei‘s Cornflakes and Park Jengil‘s Muito Prazer. Isobe has now been accepted to compete and earned an award at SKIP for three consecutive years in a row (Who Knows about My Life in 2018 and F is for Future in 2019 previously).
Meanwhile, Harumoto Yujiro‘s A Balance was honored with awards at two autumn festivals: the New Currents Award at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival and the Student Jury Award at Tokyo FILMeX 2020.
Mira Nair, Head of the New Currents Jury at Busan commented:
“This film [A Balance] invites us to a sincere and lingering inquiry on justice, and doesn’t allow us to constitute a simplifying judgement. While multiple significant social issues, such as sexual abuse or urban poverty in industrialized country, are to be observed in it, the film is also charged with sudden and unusual turns.
Even with all the circumstances of pandemic, these two [co-winner Three] brilliant films guarantee the continuity and possibility of production of cinema, relentlessly re-addressing the ever-important appeal to humanity as well as the challenging yet necessary acknowledgement of human weakness and failure.”
37 Seconds continues to prove its longevity on the festival circuit as it frequently garners director HIKARI award wins where it plays. She recently was presented with the Best Newcomer Director at the Asian Film Awards 2020 hosted by the Busan International Film Festival and with a Most Promising New Director award at the 12th Tama Film Awards.
This impressive outing for her debut independent feature is opening opportunities for HIKARI. According to the ‘Hollywood Reporter,’ she has hopped aboard a project at Universal to direct “the supernatural romance ‘Dan and Sam’ adaptation of the graphic novel by Mark Watson and Oliver Harud, published by Picador… The story is about a young couple who have it all, until the woman, Sam, dies unexpectedly. Dan, however, discovers that love transcends the physical world when Sam is allowed to visit him one night a year. But there’s a catch: It’s only until he falls in love again. Script will be written by Molly Smith Metzler who has written on ‘Shameless’ an ‘Orange is the New Black.'”
Announcing the news on her own Instagram account, HIKARI had the following to say:
“I am beyond thrilled to finally share this news! A year ago […] my agent, @oliveviolet […] handed me a graphic novel, Dan & Sam, and said ‘I know you’ll like it’. As soon as I checked into a hostel in Costa Rica, I read the book and emailed my team that I was in LOVE… I am beyond thrilled for this opportunity to direct a film that matters to me. And I’m soooo excited to be working with one and only @mollysmithmetzler!!”
Ninja Girl (Shu-shu-shu no Musume)
Irie Yu‘s hasn’t made an independent movie in 9 years. Acting as producer, writer, director, and editor, he chose to completely fund the production out of his own pocket supplemented with a crowdfunding campaign. This was the only way he could take on taboos he can’t shoot in a standard movie. The project has three additional goals: first, to release the movie in arthouse theaters nationwide which are suffering due to the pandemic; second, to make a movie which can’t be produced as a commercial title with actors and crew who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic; third, to complete an inventive Japanese movie with young students who will take up the future.
Set in a rural city Irie is known for depicting such as in the 8,000 Miles series, the story centers on a 25-year-old woman who has few friends and ever since childhood has lived her life trying as much as possible not to stand out. That life will be undermined from its very foundations by a confession of corruption running rampant in the municipal government on top of her father divulging the truth behind a shocking incident. And so will begin a new challenge for her in a city overrun by injustice and corruption.
The campaign successfully raised ¥11,923,001 and should have started production in the Fall of 2020 with a 2021 goal for release. Main cast members include Fukada Saki in the lead role and co-stars Yoshioka Mutsuo, Neya Ryoka, Iura Arata, and Uno Shohei.
Kumasaka Izuru has been consistently working in television while occasionally returning to movies, his most recent being the feature documentary, Tales of Chigasaki. But he hasn’t directed a narrative feature based on an original script since 2012’s Lilou’s Adventure (find out more here). Now he returns to narrative filmmaking with this project, billed as a “tragicomedy” that defies genre categorization. Tapping into the experience he’s built up directing TV shows of all sorts of genres, Izuru hopes to question what is “reality” for people living in this world; what is the boundary between a lie and fact; are there good lies and bad lies; and what is the difference between Fake and Fantasy. Pretenders will focus on a lone second year high school girl who puts everything at stake to stand up to Japan’s rigid social expectations for conformity and restraint. Her only weapon: “pretending.” She pulls pranks one after the other, from a quarrel on a crowded trains that becomes a comedy in a surprising manner, to having zombies appear on the streets to bring out people’s goodwill, and maybe even solving an international crisis.
Interestingly, the seeds of this movie seem to have sprouted from Kumasaka watching Hollywood movie behind-the-scenes videos and observing the differences between the filmmaking environment on Hollywood movies versus the conditions the Japanese film industry thrusts upon the cast and crew including below par compensation, paltry royalty sharing, overwork, poor communication due to a top-down structure, and ever-shrinking budgets which cause many crew members to change occupation. Naturally, these problems are not exclusive to the television and film industry, their roots spreading deeply throughout the whole of Japanese society. Kumasaka says the story for Pretenders was not so much born out of him, but is a tale inevitably resulting from that kind of Japan.
The campaign successfully raised ¥4,115,801, and despite the production being postponed due to the pandemic, the movie was recently released in theaters and closed the 43rd Pia Film Festival in September 2021.
Takayama Kohei followed up his recent mid-length Invisible Creatures with an artistic short produced through the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s “Support Program for Arts and Culture” intended to support professional artists and cultural practitioners who have lost opportunities to display their work or perform their art due to the COVID-19 pandemic. View the short below:
Hasegawa Yokna has been participating in as an Artist in Residence Program in Montreal for theatre director Marie Brassard. During her time she filmed an art short titled The Pearl Diver’s Tale – after Hokusai’s Ama To Tako adapting a poem by Shun Yu Pai which was informed by Hokusai’s erotic woodblock ‘Ama to Tako.’ It tells the tale of a pearl diver who journeys deep into the sea to retrieve the precious tide jewels from the Dragon King to ensure her infant son’s future. On the way, she is seduced and entrapped by an octopus.
Hasegawa’s 9 minute short was awarded the “Wild Card” Honorable Mention at the Cadence: Video Poetry Festival presented virtually by the Northwest Film Forum. It’s unclear if she will make this available for general viewing in the future.
Further details are available here:
Miyazaki Daisuke made a short film as a part of a series of projects filmed during COVID organized by Art Haat, an experimental and independent film production company focused on innovative concepts with a fresh approach. The company is mainly interested in the production of films dealing with human stories, culture, social and human rights issues. Miyazaki’s Salad Days can be viewed below:
Matsumura Shingo of Love and Goodbye and Hawaii shot a short movie also as a participant of the “Support Program for Arts and Culture.” It depicts a newlywed couple who, due to the pandemic, are unable to go on their honeymoon overseas. With little they can do, the couple take a pseudo-honeymoon using VR goggles. The impetus for the short, titled Stay Home Honeymoon, was Matsumura’s own feelings of fatigue as he voluntary stayed home during the first state of emergency declaration. He shot it with friends in order to turn his own mood in a positive direction.
Amiko director Yamanaka Yoko made Born Pisces through VIPO’s New Direction in Japanese Cinema (ndjc) program. The 30 minute movie is about Midori, a fourth grader who lives together with her mother while her father, who works abroad, hardly ever comes home. Midori understands there is a hole in her mother’s heart she herself can not fill. She has friends at school , but isn’t satisfied. Meanwhile, her homeroom teacher is in high spirits today as he has the class create their ideal country. Another fourth grader, Fuuta, is also without a father at home. His meek mother is a religious devotee while his middle-school-aged elder sister has begun rebelling against her. These two children will once again go to sleep tonight praying everything will be all right when they wake up.
Similarly, Wasted Eggs director Kawasaki Ryo also filmed Anata Mitaini, Naritakunai (lit. trans. “I Don’t Want to Be Like You) as one of the ndjc2019 supported projects along with Yamanaka. It tells the story of a dowdy 28-year-old woman bent on getting married out of fear she may end up alone all her life. She suffers a blow to the ego when she is mixed up with a 42-year-old unmarried colleague everyone in the office calls lonely. But she will find out another side to her colleague she didn’t expect.
Nakano Ryota shot a short story for a five episode compilation of short movies under the banner State of Emergency in reference to Japan’s unprecedented declaration of a state of emergency as the second wave COVID-19 infections necessitated a dramatic change in people’s lives. Nakano’s episode is titled Delivery 2020. It focuses on the scattered members of a family voluntarily staying home in accordance with the emergency declaration, but gather online under the family rule of celebrating birthdays together. On the screen, the mother sits at the dinner table while her daughter and son join in remotely. She says father will be home at 7pm as scheduled. However, something else is different about this customary family practice than in years past beyond just being conducted online.
The movie features Watanabe Makiko, Kishi Yukino, and Aoki Yuzu. State of Emergency is streaming on Amazon Prime (linked via the photo) in Japan though it is uncertain if it is or will be available in other regions. The production company has an official website where visuals and trailers are available (in Japanese) at the link here: http://www.transformer.co.jp/m/kinkyujitai/
Other episodes are directed by Sono Sion, Miki Satoshi, and Mariko Tetsuya.
Over at Film Independent, editors of their blog selected eight films by up-and-coming Asian/Asian-American filmmakers. Among them are two movies directed by Japanese women. They are:
Oh Lucy! (Hirayanagi Atsuko)
Spirit Award nominee for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature) is one of the most surprising dark comedies to emerge from the indie film scene in years. It stars Japanese actress Shinobu Terajima in an amazing performance as Setsuko, a bored Japanese woman who gets tricked into taking an English class and ends up falling for the instructor (Josh Hartnett, also wonderful in this film.) When Setsuko’s niece ends up running off to the US with Hartnett, she and her sister fly to the US to find the couple.from Film Independent
37 Seconds (HIKARI)
Winner of the Berlin Film Festival Panorama Audience Award, 37 Seconds—by Film Independent Directing Lab and Screenwriting Lab Fellow HIKARI—stars Mei Kayama in a winning performance as Yuma, a young graphic artist with cerebral palsy who lives with her mother. Tired of the sheltered life she’s been living, she applies for a job drawing for an erotic magazine. But when the manager finds out she’s never actually had sex, she recommends that Yuma should go out and get some real-life experience first. Undeterred, Yuma sets out to do just that.from Film Independent
Ainu Mosir picked up by ARRAY Releasing
ARRAY Releasing has secured the distribution rights to Ainu Mosir, the sophomore feature from writer and director Takeshi Fukunaga. The pic, which received a special jury mention at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, will hit Netflix on November 17 and will play theatrically in select cities throughout the month.from Deadline
The drama is set in northern Japan’s Hokkaido community and follows 14-year-old indigenous Ainu teen Kanto (Kanto Shimokura), who searches for a spiritual connection with his recently deceased father with the help of a family friend. Torn between maintaining the tradition of his ancestors and lured by the mysteries of adulthood, Kanto is on a journey to find his sense of self.
This marks the second collaboration with Fukunaga and Array. His first film, Out Of My Hand, was distributed via the Ava DuVernay-founded company in 2015, and was nominated for the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.
“We are thrilled to reunite with Takeshi Fukunaga and his beautifully crafted second film, Ainu Mosir,” said ARRAY President Tilane Jones. “The story provides a unique cultural perspective as a backdrop to the struggle between tradition and modernity, seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old indigenous teen. We’re excited to present Fukunaga’s latest work for audiences to enjoy and to welcome him back to ARRAY Releasing.”
More information available here:
We Are Little Zombies at Oscilloscope
Nagahisa Makoto’s We Are Little Zombies was picked up by Oscilloscope for US distribution. DVD and Blu-ray as well as Institutional Use options are available on the official website (link below) or viewable on multiple VOD platforms. They describe the movie as a “Tragedy, comedy, music, social criticism, and teenage angst are all subsumed in this eccentric cinematic tsunami.”
Oscilloscope Laboratories is the Brooklyn-based film distribution company founded by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys and David Fenkel who stepped down as president in 2012 prior to establishing A24 Films with Daniel Katz and John Hodges. O-Scope’s eclectic, acclaimed slate has garnered six Academy Award nominations in as many years
Though certainly far from complete, these are a roundup of information which would have been normally featured in some way or another during 2020 had it not been for the temporary pause on Indievisual activities. Publishing news as it happens or as announcements break is not the main mission of the magazine as stated in the About page, but timeliness does play an important role in the visibility of the information particularly in the digital age. However, sharing the above-featured topics is intended to place focus on stories which may have been overlooked within the rapid pace of today’s media cycles. And perhaps the longevity of this information will ultimately determine their discoverability, not just at the outset, but into 2021 and beyond.