Among the blossoming Asian film festivals all over the world (not only in the West!), Osaka has a special taste. As it has relatively limited budget, it primarily aims to show new Asian and Japanese indie films for its local audience as most of the films cannot find a theatrical distribution in Japan (as it is the case in many countries now). The 7th edition that took place from March 9 to 18 also marked the 1st anniversary of last year's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The bulk of the program (selected by Mr Sozo Teruoka) consists mainly of films from Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong (which is one of the main sponsors), a few other countries from Southeast Asia and of course, Japan. It is a pity that a number of the Japanese films were not subtitled in English. They are shown mainly in two theaters, the Cine Nouveau (a small dedicated art house in Kujo), and Umeda Garden Cinema. The latter is in the rather distant Shin Umeda City, beyond the Osaka Station, in the bitter cold of early March!
The opening film, Takumi, the Man Beyond Borders (Michi, Hakuji no hito, 2 hours), the latest opus by director Banmei Takahashi, is set in the ever conflictual relationship between Japan and Korea, a never-ending story (like France and Algeria). This story of botanist Takumi Askawa in colonial Korea (from 1914 to 1945) wants to express the feelings of one Japanese man falling in love with the Korean culture amidst colonial brutality. But, because of the poor performance by the main actor (Hisashi Yishizawa), and a strong tendency to manichean cliches, the film fails in the end to deliver its message of love and guilt for Korea.
However, the general trend is definitely Korea, whose films and TV series have invaded Japan, with mixed results. The best Korean film we could see here was Home, Sweet Home (aka Sins of Fathers), a first feature by female director Moon Si Hyun (a former assistant of Kim Ki Duk), about the strange destiny and downfall of a businessman forced to take shelter in a cheap lodging house. He is caught between his merciless wife and a young girl manipulated by her father. It is a promising debut. The Korean -Japanese co-productions flourish, but not always with success. Two Rabbits in Osaka by Ling Tai Hyung is a semi-fantastic story. A Pale Woman by Takuaki Tsunemoto unsuccessfully tries to re-explore the yakuza film, marred by an erratic narrative and camera work. Each character speaks his own language (Korean or Japanese), pretending to understand each other – an oddball.
Among the many independent Japanese films shown here, one of the most interesting was The Sound of Light (Hikari no oto) by Juichiro Yamasaki, a rather dark portrayal of some young farmers falling into despair in crisis-ridden Japan. The light of sunrise on New Year's day is a faint metaphor of hope. At the exact opposite was Taiwan's Love (Ai), a comedy by trendy director Niu Chen Zer (of Monga fame), with beautiful actress Shu Qi - maybe the new Gong Li. It was brilliantly filmed but the cinematography also came across as superficial and showoffish.
Many of the films (in competition or on "special screening") were shown in other festivals before Osaka. The moving God's Own Child by A.L.Vijay (India) took the Grand Prix while the original Sword Identity by Xu Haofeng (China) received special mention. Other highlights include Inseparable Men, a comedy by Dayyan Eng (China), starring Kevin Spacey, Trespassers (Bisperas, aka Xmas's Eve), the social drama by Jeffrey Jeturian, and the brilliant satire, A Woman in the Septic Tank by Marlon Rivera (the Philippines). There was also a very small short film section (3 films!), the best of which was Paramedic by Keihiro Kanyama, about the scary work of paramedics in Japan, when you might think it is set in the USA.
Altogether, it shows the new interest of Japanese audience for Asian cinemas (mainly Korean and Chinese), while the trend for Europe is still strong (there is also a famous European film festival in Osaka). If the budget permits, one only wishes the festival can offer a more international and challenging program.