Guest Article: Windows on Worlds – Nippon Connection, Day 2

The Editor of Windows on Worlds, Hayley Scanlon reports from her day 2 at the festival.

After spending the opening night watching two documentaries about people living outside the mainstream, day two was all about fiction. Showcasing the immense variety to be found even within the realms of small scale indie, these four contemporary dramas may have focussed more firmly on those leading “ordinary” lives but each discovered new cracks in the modern society whether in the increasing disconnection between individuals, or the relative lack of possibility for young people looking for a way out of the humdrum existence that has seemingly been carved out for them.

The day began with the latest from Hirobumi Watanabe, Party ‘Round the Globe. Similar in style to last year’s Nippon Vision’s Jury Award winner Poolsideman, Party ‘Round the Globe finds Watanabe once again starring as a fast talking colleague to the beleaguered Mr. Honda, played by an entirely silent Gaku Imamura. Intercut with troubling news stories from rising international tensions to the controversy over the proposed site for the Tsukiji relocation and the passage of an anti-conspiracy law many feel will have an adverse affect on civil liberties, the atmosphere is one more of general bemusement than the perpetual anxiety that defined Poolsideman. Despite the often terrible developments in the world at large and unspoken tragedies at home, life goes on, friends are found, and grandma gets to celebrate her 100th birthday in style surrounded by the warmth of her loving family.

Party ‘Round the Globe’s comparatively hopeful outlook stands in stark contrast the the second feature of the day, Breath of Rokkasho, which is defined by a pervasive mistrust of connection as family legacies are shown to be fallible and politics an empty game which accomplishes nothing other than the glorification of its players. Childhood friends Norio, Yasu, and Yoshi were once all members of a cult-like Buddhist political sect which strongly opposes nuclear power but following the sudden absence of their mentor, Mr. M, each has found themselves floundering as they attempt to redefine their existences in light of failures both personal and political. Only by directly confronting the legacy of parental betrayals can they begin to move forward on their own terms.

Bamy – ©Nikkatsu

Meanwhile the young of Ice Cream and Raindrops are encountering similar problems only at a much younger age. A formally ambitious effort from Daigo Matsui, the film is a complex one take extravaganza which condenses the one month rehearsal period for a play which will ultimately be canceled to just over an hour during which a collection of teenagers cast through open auditions works through an adaptation of Simon Stephens’ incendiary play Morning as onstage and offstage personalities begin to bleed one into another. Filled with punkish, youthful energy, Ice Cream and Raindrops is a fitting tribute to the avant-garde youth film remade for today’s generation which, it seems, is still unable to forge a path forward towards a future which matches their own sense of personal integrity.

These themes also find themselves reflected in the final film of the day, the horror inflected Bamy. On one level a romantic drama, Bamy repurposes the classic “red string of fate” as a kind of curse carried by the otherwise ubiquitous and unsinister umbrella. The hero, Ryota, is brought together with an old friend by the unexpected appearance of a red umbrella in the street. They fall in love and decide to get married, but he is haunted by spectres that lie in wait for him in the dark corners of the room. Tempted by another woman who also finds herself able to see ghosts, Ryota begins to resent the way life seems to be railroading him towards one particular “fate” leaving him unable to work out if he really wants to marry his fiancée or is only acting out the role which has been assigned to him. Filled with supernatural dread and a surreal sense of the eerie, Bamy was a fitting way to round off the proceedings.

With a mix of deadpan comedy, serious drama, youthful theatricality, and surreal horror each of the four films proved that there is plenty of life in the Japanese indie which remains unafraid of formal experimentation or of tackling taboos. With many more fantastic films lined up between now and Sunday, both indie and mainstream, it looks to be another stellar lineup for this year’s festival.

– Hayley Scanlon, Windows on Worlds

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