By Mark Morellini
The 24th Japanese Film Festival (JFF) returns this year but owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic this will be a streaming event which means the films can be watched at home. As an added bonus, the film festival will be free of charge for all to enjoy in Australia.
“We are thrilled to bring the JFF online, uniting first-time viewers and seasoned festival-goers alike to come together in celebration of fan-favourites from past JFF’s to the latest in contemporary Japanese cinema,” enthused the JFF programmer, Susan Bui. “As with many festivals having gone online, it’s something to look forward to when most of the time you’re stuck at home twiddling your thumbs and everyone’s watched every single film on Netflix!”
Having the privilege to watch festival films for free when other film festivals are charging may be a first in the industry. “When we started the film festival, we did provide it as a free program, but eventually when we expanded, we had to start charging ticketed events. But this year because we couldn’t offer the cinematic experience that was part of the reason why we offered it for free.”
Presented by The Japan Foundation since 1997 this festival goes from strength to strength each year, having been presented in 58 cities across 12 countries in 2019 with a total viewership of 170,000. This year there will be 30 films available for viewing, with three documentaries, nine short films (animation and stop motion animation), and 15 Australian premieres.
COVID-19 has brought film production to a standstill worldwide and as a result, the availability of films from Japan has been affected. “Owing to COVID-19 many distributors have put their new releases on hold for the year which means it was difficult for us to acquire films. The general process is that the distributors would prefer to release their films in Japan first then we as a festival present these films at the festival. So it has been difficult getting newer films, but having said that the Japanese film industry has picked up again.”
Bui explained that Japanese cinema has had a long history compared to other countries and an extremely robust domestic market. “So many films are produced with only the Japanese market in mind. Basically, filmmakers aren’t concerned about how the films will perform internationally because the domestic market supports their film industry. In that sense when you’re watching a Japanese film you can really see the Japanese perspective and experience. Sometimes they might not be as relatable to people outside Japan and sometimes they may be and I think that is the charm of Japanese cinema.”
When asked which is her favourite film screening at the festival, Bui was quick to respond. “One Night. It’s a drama about a family who is thrown into chaos one night and is reunited years later but struggles to maintain their bonds. The film looks at the dynamic between each of the members and how they coped with the challenges presented to them in the past, and also in the present.”
A musical which should prove to be a crowd-pleaser is Dance With Me, which centers on a woman who visits a fortune teller to increase her chances of love but instead increases her chances of getting jinxed and whenever she hears music she dances! But will she find the person who jinxed her? A funny well-produced film.
Would watching Japanese films at this festival be the next best thing for people who had planned on jet setting to Japan but were unable to owing to COVID-19? “Yes! What else can you do if you can’t go to Japan! Watch a couple of the Japanese films in the comfort of your own home and order some takeaway sushi – I think that’s the closest experience you’ll get!” laughed Bui.
Finally, with COVID-19 hopefully being eradicated within months, what can film festival enthusiasts expect from the JFF next year? “We want it to be as good as it has been and better of course and we’re hoping to keep the streaming element of it in the festival but also bring back the main program.”
Dec 4-13. Free Virtual Edition. For details: www.japanesefilmfestival.net
CAFÉ FUNICULI FUNICULA (Drama/Fantasy) – Travelling to the past is possible in this coffee shop, but certain rules must be followed.
LITTLE NIGHTS, LITTLE LOVE (Romance/Drama) – A man and woman meet in front of Sendai railway station while a survey is being conducted and eventually marry on the 10th anniversary of their first meeting.
GON, THE LITTLE FOX – (Animation) – Two years in production, this short anime (27 minutes) based on a children’s story is about the friendship between a fox and a boy. Mesmerizing entertainment for young children.
KEY OF LIFE – (Comedy) This feel-good film concerning a struggling actor and a hitman with amnesia will have audiences laughing hysterically.