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New York Japan Cinefest

Last week I had a chance to check out the 5th annual New York Japan Cinefest, whose mission is to introduce Japanese themed films and discover new talent in filmmaking.  In the past I have attended this festival hosted at Asia Society and always loved it, and this year too did not disappoint.  I made it to the first night of this two night event, which showcased six short films varying in length from 5 to 40 minutes.

I was most looking forward to the final film A Beautiful Person, as it was the newest work from the Kumamoto-born director Isao Yukisada and featured a cast exclusively from Kumamoto (with an appearance from the ubiquitous Kumamon!).  I had to laugh once they started speaking as the dialogue was in heavy Kumamoto-ben (dialect), adding to the film’s authenticity.  The story didn’t captivate me as much as I had hoped it would, but it was like a time capsule as it had been filmed pre-earthquake.  Especially after recently going back to Kumamoto and witnessing the horrible damage the castle has undergone, it was really special to see Kumamoto Castle in its intact form.  I have heard that it will take decades to reconstruct the stone walls, due to the fact that they will be making them from the original stones and it will take a while to restore them.

Two films that I wanted more of were the shortest one Tokyo Cosmo and the Kyoto-based Matcha: An Ippodo Story.The former was an amazingly animated odyssey of a young woman’s life in Tokyo, and the journey that her mind takes her on.  It would have been cool to delve deeper into her story, as technically I found the film to be stunning.  As I studied abroad in Kyoto I love stories set there, and I enjoyed learning more about the people behind the famous tea company Ippodo (its first overseas location is the one housed within Kajitsu here in the city).

The audience favorite seemed to be the first film “Swinging Skirt,” which depicted high school girls selling their bodies for money. The manipulative behavior of this clique at the center of the movie was both deplorable and fascinating to watch, and I ranged from feeling disgusted to entertained.  The boys who they were targeting were not as well developed as characters, but we still got a glimpse of their various personalities and motivations.  I thought it was an interesting film in particular for people who are not familiar with Japan, as it would give them a taste of the educational environment, albeit a slanted view. Congrats to my friend Hiroshi and his team for putting together another wonderful Cinefest, and looking forward to the next five years!

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