New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) 2017

2017 July 13
by Stacy Smith

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This weekend concludes the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which offered another amazing lineup of films and special guests.  This is the 16th year of its running, and it just seems to get better over time.  I saw two of the Japanese films screened at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, the festival’s venue, and another two I had seen on the plane during a recent business trip to Japan (In this same venue the week before the event I had the chance to see Harmonium (淵に立つ), which was not part of the festival but is another thought-provoking and upsetting Japanese film).

The two films I saw at the festival were Rage (怒り) and Double Life (二重生活).  Rage stayed with me for a while after watching it; it is not a film you can easily shake.  It is based on the mystery novel of the same name by Shuichi Yoshida, who also wrote Villain and Parade which were both made into fantastic films (the former directed by Sang-il Lee, who made Rage).  The story begins with the heinous murder of a couple in their home, with the young, male killer on the loose.

Characters from communities in three different parts of Japan (Chiba, Tokyo and Okinawa) are shaken by the appearance of three respective young men who fit the description of the wanted man.  As the manhunt unfolds, the more we find out about each suspect the more the suspense builds.  I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the film, but once this fear dissipated the psychological terror of the chilling climax is what I kept replaying in my mind days after.  In addition to the gripping story, another thing making this movie a must-see is the stellar cast featuring standouts like Ken Watanabe and Satoru Tsumabuki (who won a Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, beating fellow nominee from the film in the same category, Mirai Moriyama).

Double Life follows a philosophy grad student  as she embarks on a thesis project suggested by her advisor (played by the great Lily Franky): tailing a specific person for no reason.  The rule is to observe them to the greatest extent possible and to never let them realize they are being followed.  She selects her neighbor as her subject, and soon finds out that this seemingly straight-laced family man has secrets of his own (hence the film’s title).  The film clocks in at over two hours but is absorbing, dealing with existential questions such as what the meaning of human existence is.  It is director Yoshiyuki Kishi’s debut, and based on his deft handling of this multilayered subject matter it will be exciting to see how his career develops.

The two movies I missed on the big screen but saw mid-flight were Survival Family and Close Knit.  I enjoyed both but particularly recommend the latter directed by Naoko Ogigami, who was on hand during the NYAFF screening.  For those craving more Japanese film, tonight begins Japan Society’s Japan Cuts, another film festival that always showcases an outstanding lineup.  Eagerly anticipated is the attendance of actor Joe Odagiri, this year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award, at the (sold-out) screening of his film Over the Fence next Thursday, July 20th!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS