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KS Cover no. 73 2006 June

JULY 2006 :: 074

Film Exposure

Film festivals are a showcase of aspiring or established talent. Film festivals are a barometer of the state of the art. Film festivals are here in the Kansai.

In 1950, Akira Kurosawa was a journeyman filmmaker in post-War Japan flitting around such local studios as Toho and Daiei. Then came an idea for a film called Rashomon, which featured an actor named Toshiro Mifune and a story structure that could be charitably described as “weird.”

Rashomon went on to reap a box-office bonanza locally, but the real story began when Daiei (Rashomon’s releasing studio) put the film into competition in the Venice Film Festival, where it took away first prize and, as Criterion Collection DVD writer Stephen Prince notes, “announced Kurosawa’s talents, and the treasures of Japanese cinema, to the world at large.”

The Venice Film Festival, at 74 years old, is credited with being the oldest film festival in the world, though it is of course no longer the only festival in existence. Today, showcases like Sundance and Cannes are where new filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (with Memento) and Sofia Coppola (with The Virgin Suicides) earn their stripes, where actors like Michelle Rodriguez (in Girlfight) and Min-sik Choi (in Oldboy) gain worldwide exposure and where unrepentant iconoclasts like David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch can still find sympathetic audiences.

Film festivals abound in every corner of the world, and though the showcases in Japan are not as well-known as some of the bigger names — the Tokyo International Film Festival, for example, is only in its 19th year — the nation is quickly becoming a force on the international scene. By starting locally.

Osaka European Film Festival director Patrice Boiteau

”Basically, we are trying to reach Kansai film lovers,” says Osaka European Film Festival director Patrice Boiteau. “We select films from Portugal, from Sweden, from Italy; we try to include as much diversity as possible.”

The OEFF, now in its 13th year, promotes films from across Europe and Asia to local audiences; cinematic diversity, Boiteau states, is something of a rarity in a nation where the only films readily available for local viewers are either homegrown or blockbusters from the US. “Diversity has increased over the years. At the same time, however, many movie theaters in Japan have disappeared, so things are still difficult,” he says. “There are too few theaters in Japan, so films have a very short shelf life — usually only one month or so.

“There used to be lots of theaters, but many dropped away,” Boiteau continues. “In Japan it is very costly and complicated to manage a movie theater, to balance out the daily expense and still make a profit. Just like any other business, the movie theaters that don’t make money are pushed out.” In this, Boiteau says, the film festivals act as a corrective, to give more films a chance and to “help export the image of filmmaking in Japan.”

“In the US, there’s anime, but most other genres don’t get any mainstream coverage,” says Short Shorts Film Festival staff member Nick Davidson. “I’m hoping that film festivals like [Short Shorts] give more attention to the other kinds of films from over here and expose them to a bigger audience.”

Recent history confirms the sentiment: though horror directors Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on) and Hideo Nakata (the Ring series) have successfully negotiated the Hollywood Machine,
the only Japanese director guaranteed a platform to release local movies abroad remains anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki.
Still, launching films internationally isn’t the only purpose of film festivals; sometimes, exposing local artists to local audiences is the biggest goal.

“The goal of the Short Shorts festival is to promote shorts as a medium, to showcase the work of upcoming filmmakers to the local audience,” Davidson says. The Short Shorts Film Festival — SSFF for short — was established in 1999 in Harajuku, Tokyo to, in the words of its creators, “introduce Japanese audiences to the world of short films.” (Winning the SSFF carries a pretty hefty amount of pull these days; the US’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences — the body that give out the Oscars every year — has declared winning the SSFF to be a fast-track to a possible Academy Awards Short Film nomination.)

Davidson notes that ‘general impressions’ are important when films are judged (“The best short films are the ones that capture your interest in a short time, and that don’t try to overstate things”) and that a variety of factors are taken into consideration.

“The judges use a survey list to describe the good and bad things about the movie,” Davidson says. “We look at the genre, the story, the acting, whether it makes an impression in the 10 or 30 minutes we’re watching it.

“We get a range of films,” Davidson continues.

“We get some that are very excellent; we get some that we have to stop after the first five minutes because we can’t take it anymore.”

The shorts directors of today are the feature film directors of tomorrow, of course, and the direction of filmmaking in the future seems a foregone conclusion.

“Most of the submissions we get are digitally based,” Davidson says. “It’s a format that will continue to grow, and one that’s very good for aspiring filmmakers.”

Digital filmmaking is the highly-touted Next Big Thing, and though its supporters (re: Robert Rodriguez) and detractors (re: Steven Spielberg) are legion, most agree that it actually
is cheaper to use and easier for budding filmmakers to work with.

“I have to say, however, that I prefer 35mm,” Boiteau admits.

“Though more and more amateurs are using digital, the quality just isn’t the same. In a few years, I think the quality will greatly improve, but for now, amateur filmmakers’ digital work isn’t quite the same as that shot on film. Only professionals
like Robert Rodriguez and George Lucas shoot on High-Definition digital video; that format looks great, but it is costly for amateurs.

“We screened lots of digital short films last year,” Boiteau notes. “But I think this year will be the first year that we’ll screen a full-length digital film.”

Still, Boiteau agrees that the future is now, and that the time is ripe for film festivals to improve the landscape for young Japanese filmmakers by giving them the international exposure they would otherwise lack.

“There are few exports nowadays,” says Boiteau, who lists filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) as one of his personal local favorites. “[The Japanese film industry] is not so well-organized.”

Boiteau does, however, say things are improving thanks to collaborations with production companies in countries such as Korea and China, as well as an increased attempt to push national films onto the international stage. “The Tokyo Film Festival, for example, is linked to [film-boosting NPO] UniJapan. The aim is to prepare the films to move to Sundance, to move to the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival,to give the films worldwide exposure.

“I do not think that young filmmakers in Japan get as much support as they should, as much as young filmmakers in other countries get,” Boiteau continues. “I think this is because it basically comes down to a decision by Japanese politicians whether or not to provide monetary support to young filmmakers; they usually choose not to. So few people, especially in the political world, think of cinema as art. But things will change. People are being pushed to think in another way.”

Text: Jeff Lo • Photos: KS

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Dansol, Philippines


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:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + Kansai art listings


Best events + Kansai event listings


Best gigs + Kansai live listings


Parties not to miss + Kansai club listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Spanish Bar Circo, Toyonaka


Sports Bar & Restaurant Cancun


Yuka: Elevated Riverside Dining
Kyotofs gracious dining experience


Nathen Fake


Best festivals + listings


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen


Domestic and international news

For information, please visit

The Osaka European Film

The Short Shorts Film Festival:

The Toyko International Film Festival:


A World of Cinema

Film festivals abound throughout Kansai in the next few months. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Move on Asia’s “Clash and Network” is an “animation and single channel video art festival” which features artists from around the world.

Dates: Until July 9
Admission: Free/¥500
Location: NPO Remo
(outside JR Shinimamiya stn); Osaka Electro-Communication University (in Neyagawa).
Info: www.remo.or.jp
ph: 06-6634-7737
www.osakac.ac.jp (Japanese)
ph: 072-876-3317

The Queer Film Festival
features films focusing on issues of gender, and sexuality.

Dates: July 21-25
Admission: To be announced Location: Hep Hall (8F, Hep 5 complex, Umeda)
Info: www.geocities.jp/kansai_queer_film/en/
ph: 070-5666-1125

Asian Streams showcases animated works in a variety of mediums.

Dates: July 30
Admission: Free/¥500
Location: Osaka Business Park (close to Osaka Castle, outside Kyobashi Station).
Info: www.fesnet.jp/streams2006 (in Japanese)
Ph: 06-6229-1801

The Osaka European Film Festival is a large festival dedicated to the works of European
and Asian filmmakers. This year features a retrospective on filmmaker Luchino Visconti.

Dates: November 3-26
Admission: To be announced Location: To be announced Info: www.oeff.jp/program/intro_en.php

The Kyoto International Student Film and Video Festival invites students from around the world to participate in this annual festival.

Dates: October 20-27
Admission: To be Announced
Location: Kyoto’s Doshisha University Kanbaikan and the Kyoto Cinema movie theater.
Information: http://kisfvf.com/2006/english/

World Venues

Heading out of town? Tickets will be available soon for the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada (September 7-16, www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2005/), the New York Film Festival in the States (September 29- October
15, www.filmlinc.com/nyff/nyff.htm) and the world’s oldest showcase, the Venice Film Festival in Italy from August 30-September 9. (www.labiennale.org/en/cinema).

Joining the Race

Times — and the equipment — have changed since director Robert Rodriguez lent his body to medical science to raise the $7,000 it took to shoot El Mariachi in 1993, but it’s still possible to make a film with a teeny tiny crew for about that amount of money. For example, a stout workstation, digital camcorder and a copy of Final Cut Pro will run about ¥750,000, depending on where you look.

So, now that that hobby film has finally been completed, it’s on to the next step: entry in a film festival, and a chance at the Great Beyond of national distribution. Making the cut for a festival depends on a number of factors (talent being pretty high on the list), though the first, highly crucial step is to simply get your work before the festival organizers on time.

Deadlines run quite early (the gates are closed for most of this year’s local fests, and the final cut-off for next January’s Sundance Film Festival is September 25th) so it’s best to start checking this year for contests you want to enter in 2007. Entry fees range from cheap to free (it is actually free to submit a short film to the Cannes Film Festival!), though low-cost “early-bird” deadlines encourage filmmakers to submit their work far ahead of time.

For further deadline information, please check individual festival websites. For information on filming in and around Osaka, visit the Osaka Film Council at http://www.osaka-fc.jp/index-e.html.