Japanese Film Festival shines its light for free

The enchanting characters of Sumiigurashi. Image: supplied.

The Japanese Film Festival has been thrilling Australian cinephiles and lovers of all things Japanese for 23 years. This year will be no exception – but the delivery will differ, writes John Moyle. 

This year’s Japanese Film Festival Australia will look very different to the previous events held annually since 1997.

The advent of Covid-19 and advances in streaming technologies has created an opportunity for the festival to migrate to a free online program of 25 films representing the best of Japanese cinema, streaming from 4–13 December.

“The online festival, JFF Plus, is an exciting initiative by our headquarters in Japan, and it will be offered to 20 countries around the world,” Anne Lee, Programmer, Japanese Film Festival said.

With this year’s theme being ‘Provocation and Disruption: Radical Japanese Filmmaking from the 1960s to the 2000s’, the JFF Plus Online Festival will bring a diverse selection of features, anime and documentaries straight into your lounge room or onto your mobile device.

“To access JFF Plus, all you need to do is to sign up for a free account using your email address, and each film will be available to watch during a designated 24-hour period during the festival from 4-13 December,” Lee said.

The 2011 feature Railways tells a heart warming tale of a grief stricken man who finds solace by becoming a train conductor.

A still from Railways. Image: supplied.

Sumikkogurashi: Good to be in the corner, is an enchanting animated adventure featuring anthropomorphic representations of animals and inanimate objects created by Japanese stationery company San-X.

Japan is famous for its love of noodles in many shapes and forms, and this is celebrated in the documentary Tora-san in Goto which follows a family of udon makers over a 22-year period.

Fish also play an important role in the Japanese diet and culture, and there is no place on earth which celebrated that more than the enormous Tsukiji markets, the subject for the documentary Tsukiji Wonderland.

Even though the main markets are now closed, an outer ring of sushi shops, fish retailers and restaurants still thrive.

With a career starting in the silent era and finishing as an important part of Japanese New Wave cinema, director Yasujiro Ozu is regarded as a giant of world cinema, so it is no wonder that the JFF Plus regard their programming of his 1952 masterpiece Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice as something of a highlight.

A clip from The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice. Video: YouTube/BFI.

In the West, Ozu found champions in Donald Ritchie, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders.

Green Tea tells the story of a fractured middle aged couple who find common ground over a shared meal against the backdrop of changing social conditions in Japan after WWII.

JFF Plus will also screen nine animated shorts from the Production I.G video game company and stop frame motion animator Takeshi Yashiro.

For those who like a more traditional approach to a film festival, a program of Japanese classic films will be presented at the Art Gallery of NSW from 2 February to 3 March.

Screenings include the cyber-punk classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man; the groundbreaking look at 1960s queer Tokyo, Funeral Parade of Roses; and the biopic Eros + Massacre, which examines the life of Sakae Osugi, an anarchist who espoused free love at the beginning of the 20th century.

“It’s really an eclectic program produced through the input of Japan Foundation branches throughout the world, and was only made possible due to the move online,” Lee said.

For more information on the 2020 Japanese Film Festival – and to stream films (from 4–13 December) – visit japanesefilmfestival.net.

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