Eiga Sai | Japanese Film Fesival 2012

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Japan Foundation of the Philippines brings back Eiga Sai for another run of free screenings at the Shang Cineplex from July 6 to 15. They’re bringing ten films this year, running a full gamut of Japanese cinema. I wish I can watch at least one movie out of this selection of great movies, I remember back in College I used to watch this with my friends :) Here’s a look at what you might be watching this year. 

Opening film Villain (Akunin, Lee Sang-il, 2010) is a devastating exploration of the very idea of a villain. Its main character, Ryuichi (played with strange earnestness by Satoshi Tsumabuki), is an outright sociopath. The main action of the film is set off by him murdering a woman who rejects his advances. From there, the film movie spirals out to portray an entire society populated by villains of varying degrees. The movie’s workmanlike direction and lengthy runtime will probably test the patience of some audiences, but the depth of rigor of its characters does make for compelling viewing. Make no mistake: the Villain is bleak and it can be exhausting, but its rewards are many. 

This fact must be made known right away: there is one animated entry in the festival, but it is not for kids. Colorful (Karafuru, Hara Keiichi, 2010) is basically a movie about suicide, and parents should be warned that the content probably isn’t appropriate for their younger kids, unless they’re looking forward to have a long talk about matters of life and death. Having said all that, Colorful is a rather outstanding picture, taking a long, hard look at the turmoil that can be held in by seemingly happy young people. It can get pretty grim, but the darkness is all there for a reason. 

For something that is absolutely kid-appropriate, try Ninja Kids (Nintama Rentaro, 2010, Takashi Miike). It might seem strange to think that director Miike, who has gifted the world with plenty of non-family fare (Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer, just to name a few) would provide this festival’s most kid-friendly film. But here we are. Miike’s anarchic tendencies are harnessed to create what is essentially a live action cartoon following the exploits of a young boy who joins a ninja academy. It’s a little unfocused, but there plenty of genuinely funny gags to keep both children and adults thoroughly entertained. 

At first glance, Permanent Nobara (Pamanento Nobara, Yoshida Daihachi, 2010) might seem a like pretty typical light Japanese dramedy. It tells a story of a woman forced to return to her hometown after her divorce. Drama ensues. But the devil here is in the details. Director Yoshida has a knack for tempering melodrama with off-kilter humor. The film is populated with strange characters that say plenty of outrageous things, laying down an offbeat foundation to what could have been just another formulaic, overwrought Japanese dramedy. 

Formula isn’t always a bad thing, however. The sports underdog formula has proven to be ridiculously resilient over the years. And it is a formula that Tomorrow’s Joe (Ashita No Jo, Sori Fumihiko, 2011) pulls off pretty well. Adapted from the much beloved manga, it tells the story of a young hooligan in 60s Japan who takes up boxing. Beyond the formula, the film offers up a rather brilliant depiction of Japan in the 60s, with its jazzy, horn filled soundtrack and its earnest, completely non-ironic tone. There are moments in the movie that are simply ridiculous, but the movie plays everything with such sincerity that it just feels better to play along. 

Formula works against Peak: the Rescuers (Gaku, Katayama Osamu, 2011). Also based on manga, the film follows a volunteer mountain rescue worker who loses her spirit for the job after a series of mishaps. The film telegraphs her character arc practically from minute and never deviates from the course. The film compensates with an outsized sense of bombast and gorgeous shots of the Japanese Alps. It’s somewhat like a Japanese Michael Bay film, offering up pretty much the same pleasures and the same annoyances. 

A pair of films in the lineup happen to pay tribute to Japanese transport professions. Both of them are decent selections for people looking for lighter, happier fare. Railways (Reiruweizu: 49-sai de densha no untenshi ni natta otoko no monogatari, Nishikori Yoshinari, 2010), which follows a 49 year old company executive who quits his job and pursues his childhood dream of becoming a train conductor. It’s a trifle of a movie, but it’s pleasant overall, and restrained direction keeps it from tipping over into the realm of melodrama. Happy Flight (Yaguchi Shinobu, 2008) portrays a day in the life of employees of All Nippon Airways. The film offers up little in the way of narrative urgency or character exploration, but it does offer a glimpse at some of the more esoteric aspects of work at an airline. 

Abacus and Sword (Bushi no Kakeibo, Morita Yoshimitsu, 2010) is a strange creature: a samurai film without any swordfights. Instead, its hero is an abacus-wielding accountant who tangles with influential forces as he discovers inconsistencies in rice supplies meant for the poor. Given today’s economic climate, there’s something endearing about a hero that preaches fiscal responsibility. But predictably, the film doesn’t inspire much excitement as it plows through its tale of numbers and accounts. It’s the kind of story that would have benefitted from a more off-kilter filmmaking style. As it is, the film is far too sober about itself to be interesting. 

There have been so many TV medical dramas that it can be hard to imagine new stories being in that context. And indeed, In His Chart (Kamisama no Karute, Fukugawa Yoshihiro, 2010) struggles to distinguish itself from decades of previous stories. The movie is about a young doctor struggling with his decision to move to a teaching hospital when a terminal cancer patient falls under his care. The film is more than capable of hitting a few graceful notes, but by and large it all feels more than a little predictable. 

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