Japan: Out of Focus
The cinema of Japanese peripheries – seriously and with a grain of salt. Independent films which explore themes absent from the mainstream and crazy comedies which mock the relations between the centre and the provinces.
Young cinema of Japan – new filmmakers, bold aesthetics, independent views and the madness of pop culture in their best dimensions. The main thread are Japanese peripheries – all that lacks in mainstream narrations.
Over 600 films were produced in Japan in 2018 and the viewers bought almost 170 million cinema tickets. It might seem that the film industry is doing very well in this country. But then, why so few Japanese titles are shown in cinemas around the world and the same names continue to appear in the programmes of the greatest festivals?
Filmmakers such as Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, Hirokazu Koreeda or Takashi Miike became known to the global public at the end of the 20th or the beginning of the 21st century. Since then few directors could count on the attention of festival programmers, although in Japan there has already grown up a second or third generation of filmmakers searching for their own language. However, the young artists face a number of challenges – the self-sufficiency of the local market turns out to be a trap for creative development.
Film production in Japan is dominated by a few large studios and movies are often produced in cooperation with TV stations, publishers and toy producers. The decision to accept a screenplay is often taken by a group of managers, more interested in the prospects of selling film-related gadgets than in their artistic value – hence the expectation that films should not contain anything controversial or touch upon difficult topics to be able to reach the widest possible group of viewers without ruining their good mood. The Japanese are actually fond of going to the movies, so the industry is not forced to look for foreign markets; in consequence, the promotion of the national cinema abroad is being neglected.
The filmmakers who look for a way to raise subjects outside the mainstream have to explore alternative production options: in Japan there is no state fond to support such initiatives and the only chance to acquire a budget is to approach small, ambitious production firms, privates sponsors or (modest) regional fonds.
Despite those obstacles, creative energy finds its ways to move on: the independent Japanese cinema still has hot blood in its veins, which can be proven by spectacular achievements of such films as "In This Corner of the World" (Sunao Katabuchi, 2016), an award-winning animation, financed through crowdfunding, or “One Cut of The Dead” (Shinichiro Ueda, 2017), which on the wave of word of mouth marketing jumped into the 7th place of the annual box office and grasped nominations to all the most important local film awards.
The review of the new Japanese cinema at Five Flavours is a unique opportunity to look beyond the centres of big cities and revise the myth of the country enjoying an economic idyll. It is a chance to meet the inhabitants of the city outskirts and small towns, who deal with everyday challenges, look for love and try to find a balance between traditional customs and modern lifestyle. We present the filmmakers who reach for themes and aesthetic choices absent from the mainstream, and have bold, unconventional ideas on the use of genre cinema schemes. The films will take the spectators to Okinawa, into small side streets of harbour cities in Hokkaido, and even on the set of a low-budget film production about… zombie. The section will not lack for the wonderfully absurd Japanese sense of humour nor views on the relations between the capital and the peripheries reflected in a madly distorted mirror.
Film section Japan: Out of Focus has the status of an event accompanying the anniversary celebrations granted by the Embassy of Japan in Poland, as part of the celebration of the centenary of establishing diplomatic relations between Poland and Japan.
We must also thank Yuka Sakano from Kawakita Memorial Institute and Ben Dimagmaliw, the editor of Indievisual magazine for their much valued contributions to our Japan: Out of Focus programme.