There are few countries on this planet that can rival the Japanese film industry for its variety, for its distinction and for its sheer high volume of production. This makes it all the more disappointing that so few of these films receive a theatrical release in Ireland. Those in the know have been scouring through online markets and fussing over multi-region DVD players for years now, but thanks to the efforts of Access Cinema and the Japanese Embassy, April’s JFF will showcases some of the best the Japanese film industry currently has to offer. Following its launch in Dublin today (April 11th) the festival will expand to include screenings in Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick.
With regards to essential viewing it’s hard to look past Naoko Ogigami’s Rent-a-Cat, the comedic tale of Sayoko, a girl who travels the city everyday renting cats to lonely people from her handcart. Given its heartwarming subject matter, Rent-a-Cat seems like a good bet for international success.
Anime as one would expect is well represented, opening with From Up On Poppy Hill the latest animation from those peerless folk at Studio Ghibli. Goro Miyazaki’s debut feature Tales From Earthsea was always going to get a cold reception given the footsteps it had to follow in, but his latest has proven a favourite in Japan and may come to rank alongside the likes of studio classics Grave of the Fireflies or Spirited Away.
Other Anime offerings include the fantastically left-field Wolf Children, Mamoru Hosoda’s award winning tale of a couple, one human, one werewolf, and the prejudice their children encounter. There’s also the tale of super warriors fighting mysterious terrorists in 009 Re: Cyborg from the creators of fanboy favourite Ghost in the Shell: SAC and two helpings of Toshiyuki Kubooka’s absurdly violent romp Berserk, set in Europe during the middle ages.
There is surely an unwritten law somewhere that any Japanese film festival should feature the work of Takeshi Miike, and it’s a law that’s hard to contest considering the uniqueness of his work. Most famous internationally for the likes of Ichi the Killer or Audition, there is more to his work than simple ultra-violence. Within the festival programme alone the diversity of Miike’s work is evident, with two of his films up for your consideration; video game adaptation Ace Attorney and his own unique slant on Romeo & Juliet, For Love’s Sake (Limerick only).
The highlight of the festival is the rare chance to see Paul Joyce’s documentary Nagisa Oshima: The Man Who Left his Soul on Film. A prolific and experimental filmmaker, Oshima is rightfully recognised as one of the greats of world cinema; who else can boast a filmography that includes working with David Bowie, winning Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and a film that features a ménage-trois with a chimpanzee? He was a filmmaker of great conscience and principal and one who took great efforts to combat the strict censorship rules imposed on early Japanese cinema.
If after all that you still have some time to spare then it’s worth checking out Yamashita Nobuhiro’s My Back Pages. Based on a true story, it tells the tale of a journalist naively covering and eventually becoming converted to student activism only for the movement’s darker side to raise its head.
The festival ends just as the Hollywood summer blockbuster season takes over, with its formulaic cash cows and big budget sequels. You should try the offerings of the Japanese Film Festival if for no other reason than it may be your last chance to see something genuinely refreshing and new before Oscar season rolls round again in December.