Google+ Followers

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Sakasama no Patema (Patema Inverted)

Patema Inverted (Sakasama no Patema): Written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.  Starring: Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintaro Ohata.  Running time: 99 minutes 

Rating: 3.5/4

            Patema Inverted begins with a bone-chilling image; the buildings of an entire city, including their occupants, slowly rising into sky, as if the planet’s gravity had simply ceased to exist, while the audience hears the panicked reactions of people talking over static-filled radio waves.  However, although the mystery behind this first scene underlies and shapes the story of the film, it by no means defines it.  This is one of those intelligent sci-fi/romance stories that never gives in to the temptation to completely explain how its world works, or to over-burden the interactions between the characters with exposition so that the audience knows exactly what happened and when.  The answers are there, if you are paying close attention, but such details are not the focus. 

            This movie instead revolves around a young princess (of sorts) named Patema, whose people live in an extensive series of underground bunkers.  One day, while exploring what appears to be some sort of vast silo, she falls.  Only here, instead of falling into the Earth, she apparently falls out of it, popping out of a hole in a cliffside near a vast, strange industrial complex.  There, she nearly floats into the sky, but is saved at the last minute by a young boy named Eiji, who jumps up and grabs her, and with his greater weight pulls her back down to the ground.  Unsure what to do, he takes her to a nearby shed to allow her to hide, until they can figure out what to do. 

            I say hide, because we soon learn that the massive concrete landscape stretching across the landscape is actually a small dystopian autocracy, a school-and-industrial system ruthlessly ruled by Generic Creepy Autocrat #5721.  Its existence is linked to the first scene of the movie- the disaster we witnessed there appears to have been the result of an experiment to use gravity as an energy source, and its failure resulted in a large part of humanity simply lifting off into the sky.  How long this happened, no one can say, but the event has turned into something like a religion, utilized by the authoritarian regime to keep the population silent and subservient- those who were lifted into the sky, they say, were “sinners.”  Thus, Patema’s sudden appearance presents a quandary for the regime, and as a result, a threat to the existence of her people. 

            What made Patema such a wonderful viewing experience for me, despite a few story hiccups (the villain is as uninteresting and undefined as it gets, and the story veers dangerously close at times to making Patema a Damsel in Distress), was how fully it embraces the unique logic of its world.  Physicists need not apply- any effort to reason out the idea of reverse-gravity worlds existing right next to each other will probably cause your brain to melt, especially once the movie’s small but effectively-dealt twists come into play. 

            The basic conceit, as far as it needs to be important, is that even though Patema and her people experience reverse-gravity, they can be kept safely tethered to the earth by sufficient weight.  When followed to its logical conclusion, this means that when Eiji, who weighs just a bit more than Patema, holds on to her, he can effectively moon-jump all over the place.  And when the occasions for it come, the movie makes full use of this for some truly exhilarating chase sequences, leaning on its stunning animation to make you feel like you are jumping right along with the characters on-screen.  The animation is also notable for when and how they switch the upside-down perspective to show us Patema’s point of view, reminding us that we see as normal, non-threatening up is to Patema what trying to walk across the top of the Grand Canyon is like for us.  It’s another excellent cinematic trick offered by the logic of the world and by the style of its animation, and a well-utilized one.    

            The world and the simple but charming relationship that blooms between Patema and Eiji build up to a genuinely mind-bending third act, with the kind of self-confident use of its ideas that separate the really special films from the rest of the pack.  It’s amazing plays on gravity aside, this is hardly a very complicated movie, but it doesn’t need to be, because that’s not what makes it great.  It’s its unabashed willingness to embrace its own gleeful creativity that does. 

-Noah Franc 

And there you have it, dear readers.  My thoughts on the movies I was able to enjoy at this year's Nippon Connection.  Most of you have not seen any of these movies, even though they are all films that everyone should see.  Seek them out, however you can, and let yourselves be amazed.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Moratoriamu Tamako (Tamako in Moratorium)

Tamako in Moratorium (Moratoriamu Tamako): Written by Kosuke Mukai, directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita.  Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Suon Kan, Yasuko Tomita, Keiichi Suzuki, Kumi Nakamura.  Running Time: 78 minutes 

Rating: 4/4

             I am a Millennial, coming of age during the dawn of the internet era, and native to a world of constantly-changing technological gadgets and ever-shifting cultural norms.  My generation is only now attempting to establish its place in our world, but with all the uncertainties and all the latent problems of earlier generations confronting us, few of us know for sure where to go and what to do.  While it is not explicitly about these very large and very difficult themes, as I watched this movie, I could not help reflecting on how the frustrations and quandaries of Tamako mirrored those of myself and of many others my age, the question we all must face sooner or later; when we come to the end of our pre-written script, what do we do next? 

            Tamako in Moratorium is split into four parts, one for each season in her first year of post-college life, beginning with Autumn.  After graduating, Tamako has moved back in with her Dad, who runs a small sporting-goods store out of their small apartment in a small, quiet town.  Her days have become a seemingly endless monotony of sleeping, eating, playing Gameboy, eating, reading Manga, eating, teasing the much younger boy who works in the nearby photography shop, and eating.  She has no friends aside from the boy, and even when with relatives other than her father she seems awkward and insecure.  And, her father’s admonitions notwithstanding, she just can’t seem to summon the energy to send out more than a token job application, even when her father presents her with an ultimatum.    

            At first glance, this would seem to be because Tamako is simply lazy, or immature, or stupid, but she defies easy explanation.   She successfully finished college and is clearly not unintelligent, or unaware of the world.  She does eventually start to help out more around the house, even as her attempts at job-hunting fall flat.  She is childish, especially when the possibility of new romance in her Dad’s life enters the picture, but is not aggressively juvenile.   

            The one thing that does excite her, though, is food.  I was strongly reminded of films like Ratatouille and Babette’s Feast by how lavishly the film’s attention is devoted to food.  Cooking food, setting the table with food, discussing food, and of course, consuming food; hungrily munching on watermelon, greedily slurping hot soup or melting ice cream, stuffing oneself with facefulls of rice and vegetables and meat; all carefully laid out on-screen for us to consider (and desire).  The meals here almost seem to be a source of comfort, the one constant for Tamako in a world where any and all security seems to have abandoned her.  Regardless of her cares or worries, at least she can anticipate and appreciate the juicy flavor of a hamburger. 

            Tamako centers around its performances, and everyone in the cast delivers.  Although Tamako doesn’t always talk very much with her father, or the photography boy, or anyone else for that matter, there is a level of unspoken caring there between each of them that need not be said, nor even explicitly shown; it’s simply there.  The boy has a particularly poignant moment when his girlfriend asks him if he is in love with Tamako, and he replies, “No.  But I try to help her when I can.  I don’t think she has any friends.”  Later in the scene he turns and offers Tamako my new favorite quote of the year; “I can’t always look after you.  I’m busy with love and sports.” 

            I think a key to understanding Tamako can be found in one of her most-repeated lines; many of her evenings are spent watching complicated political news shows, already hardly the favored pastime of a seemingly lazy and disconnected college graduate.  Each time, she finally turns off the program with exasperation and (while turning to eat, naturally), mutters, “Japan is hopeless.”  That doesn’t sound like a brat churlishly refusing to face the “real world.”  It sounds like someone feeling despair- or at least frustration- over the overwhelming sense that the “real world” awaiting her is no better than what she already has.  Or perhaps she really is just an immature child.  Like any great film, this one lets us sort things out on our own. 

            Only once during the film do we briefly see Tamako interact with anyone approaching her age, when two friends from school happen to pass her on the street.  Later on, she sees one of them standing at the station waiting for a train, crying silently to herself.  It’s a small moment that brushes up against the edge of another story- why did the girl return to this town, and what did she experience, or not experience, that is causing her to leave in tears?  In any other movie, Tamako would go to her, try to comfort her, hear her tale, and learn some important life lesson in the process to break her out of her malaise.  Not here.  Like Tamako, the movie knows that life isn’t really that simple. 

Next film: Patema Inverted

-Noah Franc 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Yurusarezarumono (Unforgiven)

Unforgiven (Yurusarezarumono): Written and directed by Sang-il Lee.  Starring: Ken Watanabe, Akira Emoto, Yuya Yagiri, Shiori Kutsuna, Eiko Koike, Koichi Sato.  Running Time: 135 minutes.  Based on the original screenplay of the same name, by David Webb People. 

Rating: 3.5/4

            As far back as collective human memory goes, the debate over when, how, and for what purposes people can or should be able to kill other people has continued unabated.  There is hardly a religion, philosophy, sociopolitical system, or culture that does not involve some law, tradition, or other concerning the subject.  And yet, after six thousand years of soul-searching, many would assert that we have not reached any definitive conclusion as a species.  And for as long as we have been telling stories, and more recently making movies, we have asked and explored one question after another, diving into the nature of man’s role in death, and more often than not coming up less than satisfied- or pleased- with what we’ve found.  Into this thick and heady fray comes Unforgiven, a Japanese-samurai remake of the now-legendary Clint Eastwood Western that took home Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy awards over 20 years ago. 

            Ken Watanabe stars as Jubei, an infamous ex-samurai known as “Jubei the Killer,” who was forced into hiding on the northern island of Hokkaido after the Meiji Restoration led to the elimination of many of the former samurai nobles.  There, he has sought to leave his violent past behind him, raising his children on a small farm in the middle of nowhere.  However, the past, slippery devil that it is, soon catches up to him the form of his former comrade-in-arms, Kingo.  Farther to the north, in a small hamlet controlled by the dictatorial Oichi, two farmers have had a bounty put on their heads by the prostitutes of a small bar, after one of them drunkenly cut up the face of one of their sisters.  Kingo has gotten wind of the promised amount, and wants Jubei's help taking out the farmers, after which they will split the cash.  He is, at first, unwilling, but the land is so destitute and barren, and the needs of his children too great, that he breaks his promise to his deceased wife and rides north to assist his friend. 

            They are initially stalked, and soon joined, by Ichizo, an Ainu, who are a native local people relentlessly persecuted for their unique language and culture by the Japanese forces that occupy the island.  The group reaches the village fairly quickly, but are caught unawares by just how brutally Oichi enforces his “no-weapons” rule.  Oichi also happens to be a veteran of one of the original pursuit units that tracked samurai across the island nearly a decade earlier, and his hatred for both them and the native Ainu makes him even more determined to prevent Jubei and his friends from fulfilling their goal of killing the two alcoholic farmers, even though he says up-front that he does not care if the two villagers live or die. 

            The real strength of the story, though, comes from how it doesn’t just rely on the instinctive hatred between Jubei and Oichi to generate conflict and flashy fight scenes.  Instead, both that and the search for the farmers are used as reflections on the aforementioned ambiguity of when and why killing could be justified.  Yes, the two targets have done something terrible, but they are never shown to be inherently violent people.  One of them even brings gifts as an apology early in the film.  Is it even right to say that Oichi, for all his open brutality to, well, everyone and everything, should die?  We see how open and degrading the repression of the Ainu is.  Although they are and have always been a peaceful people, would they be justified in rising up in revolt?  The determined mother of the prostitute house is given a chance at the very beginning to kill the farmers herself, and does not take it.  Is it fear of retribution from Oichi, or a fear of corrupting herself, even in the name of achieving her perceived justice for her injured friend?  

            Right from the start, the movie wades into this murky and gray moral swamp, and never really bothers to leave it, even at the end, when Jubei takes responsibility for everything that has happened upon himself.  Killing weighs on a person, especially people like Ichizo who have never done it before.  The original Unforgiven was in many ways an attempt to undercut the nostalgic glorification of the classic shootout as seen in so many of the original genre classics, and Lee’s remake fully embraces this aspect of the subject matter.  Jubei is the best there is at killing a lot of people, and one look on his face tells us that he long ago ceased to reflect on whether or not such things are right or wrong, even though he has tried so hard to achieve some form of redemption for his actions.  I would hate to see the results should Ken Watanabe and Clint Eastwood ever get into a tortured stare-off.  

            Set against the stunningly gorgeous backdrop of the mountainous Hokkaido landscape, where the characters are often seen simply as tiny moving dots along a vast and rolling hillside, there is an air of inevitability to the events depicted as they play out before us.  Hatred and a desire for vengeance sets everything in motion, and by the time the final blows have landed, everyone involved, even the poor mutilated girl, seem to be at a loss as to what the benefit of it all was. 

            It is an effective and striking movie, although not one without its flaws.  Jubei seems very quick in his decision to break his promise to his wife- a little more time devoted to his children, to give real weight to his fate, would not have gone amiss.  Additionally, I had hoped to see a lot more of the prostitutes (thus far, one of the strangest critiques I’ve had in a review).  When they first appear, there are some lines rich with subtext regarding the status of women, and sex workers in particular, in a lawless land where might makes right.    They are every bit as shaded as Jubei and Oichi, and having more of their presence and their own unique struggles with this world of violence would have given the film a fuller, more rounded feel, but I can’t say they are underrepresented, since this is ultimately a film about Jubei himself. 

            I think this film is worthwhile watching for everyone, regardless of whether or not you love, hate, or have never seen the Clint Eastwood original.  It is gorgeously filmed, effectively acted, and will leave you with a lot to think about when it’s over. 

Next film: Tamako In Moratorium

-Noah Franc 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Matsuri No Uma (The Horses of Fukushima)

The Horses of Fukushima (Matsuri No Uma): Written, directed, filmed, and edited by Yoju Matsubayashi.  Running Time: 74 minutes. 

Rating: 2.5/4

            After the Fukushima disaster, locals were soon ordered by the government to evacuate the region entirely, up to a radius of 20 kilometers.  Any and all pets and livestock were to be killed, to prevent them from escaping the zone and spreading contamination.  This was especially important for livestock, to make sure that no “tainted meat” would appear on the market.  In only one instance was there an exception- a herd of specially-trained horses, intended for a special annual cultural ceremony, were allowed to be taken out of the evacuation zone several weeks after the incident and, despite the danger, were taken to a government-run shelter to recover.  These horses and the struggles faced by their owner are the focus of The Horses of Fukushima

            The director of this movie, Yoju Matsubayashi, said that he initially heard of the horses while filming his first documentary about the Fukushima disaster, Memories of a Lost Landscape (he is planning to premiere a third at Nippon next year).  One of the people he worked with knew the owner and took him for a visit to the ripped-up shed, where the surviving horses had somehow managed to survive the flooding.  Later, when they were granted permission to retrieve the horses, he decided to work alongside them as a helper, filming as they went.  After the initials setbacks in getting government approval, they were finally able to bring the horses to a shelter where they are slowly fed and given medical treatment.  We see the seasons slowly change as they gain wait and, in nearly all cases, are able to survive for the next festival. 

            As far as documentaries go, it is very sparse in its speech and information- nearly all of the film is just footage of the horses, showing them slowly regaining their strength.  There are a few moments of the owner talking about his first experiences with horses, but even he is rarely on-screen.  This festival that they are a part of is also never explained in detail, other than to say that it was originally a way for samurai-in-training to condition their horses.  But as far as what sort of activities or events the festival is actually composed of, I could not say.

            In the Q&A session after the showing, Yoju explained that this was an intentional decision on his part- after watching his original cut, he decided that the story of the horses themselves was powerful enough to not really need much dialogue, interview clips, or explanation.  As a result, he cut out a significant amount of interview and exposition materials. 

            While I can certainly understand the sentiment- cinema, after all, should be show and don’t tell before all else- I don’t know if it was a particularly effective decision as far as this subject matter is concerned.  Much of the footage of the horses is beautiful and moving, especially after they are finally able to run free outdoors again, but I would have at least preferred to have learned more about the festival they are a part of, with perhaps comments from some locals on what the festival means to them.  Or perhaps a bit more from the owner, who seems like the sort of quiet, dedicated person who deserves to have a whole documentary devoted to their life and work. 

            Those are, of course, to a certain extent, just things that I personally would have done, and need not reflect negatively on the director or his film.  There is a clear affection here that shines through the screen, and a reverence for the physical majesty of the horse.  That makes it, at the very least, a highly unique and personal work of documentary filmmaking. 

Next film: Unforgiven

-Noah Franc 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Sochite Chichi Ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son)

Like Father, Like Son (Sochite Chichi Ni Naru): Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.  Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Keita Ninomiya, Lily Franky, and Yoko Maki.  Running Time: 120 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

           How would you respond if unexpected events pulled the rug out from under everything you thought was certain in your life?  If everything you thought you knew about yourself suddenly started slipping away?  I can’t say I’ve ever been in such a position myself, but since I am no stranger to existential dread, I can hazard a guess as to what that might be like.  And what I guess is nothing pleasant, or easy. 

            This is precisely the predicament that our main characters, Ryota and Midori, find themselves in.  Via a mandatory blood test, the two learn that their son, Kyota, is not actually theirs- through some accident, their baby was switched at birth with another.  They are put in contact with the other identified parents, Yukari and Yudai, and their “actual” child, Ryusei.  Together, with the children none the wiser, the four adults must decide together whether to exchange the children or to continue on as before. 

            I will not say what decision they ultimately reach, but it is obviously not reached without a great deal of agonizing soul-searching on the part of all involved, especially Ryota.  The more overarching themes of the movie deal with the idea of familial and parental love in general, which is to be expected, but it soon becomes clear that this is a story very specifically meant for fathers.  Ryota had always raised his son to succeed, trying to teach him to never be satisfied with not being the best (even though he hasn’t even started regular school yet).  He’s not domineering, or abusive, or cold- he openly admits that he wishes his job didn’t pull him away from his wife and child so often.  On the other hand, though, he also clearly never tries to get any time off, even when his boss says he should, because to him, that’s just what fathers do- they work, and push their children hard.  And prior to learning that Kyota is not his by blood, he laments to Midori that their son is just “too nice” to survive in the work world. 

            Because of this, when the news arrives, his first major struggle is to figure out what, exactly, his reaction is.  Is he genuinely upset and angry, or is he also feeling some sense of relief?  He doesn’t seem to know, so, of course, neither do we.  The major conceit of the story is that he and the other father, Yukari, are polar opposites.  Ryota is a self-serious, educated engineer at a prestigious firm, living in a high-end, clean apartment, and raising his son on the basic tenets of tough love.  Yukari is an uneducated mechanic running a household goods store, making glib jokes without end; his family of five is squeezed into a crowded and messy apartment over the shop; he bathes with his children and gleefully joins them in the ball pit in shopping mall play centers.  Their exchanges are second only to those between Ryota and his wife and son, a meditation on contrasting opposites.

            Like Father, Like Son is a deeply affecting film.  At the viewing I attended there were far fewer dry pairs of eyes post-credits than when the lights first dimmed.  I believe it’s affecting precisely because of what it doesn’t do, rather than what it does do; there is no shouting, for one; the situation these people are in is incredible enough that no artificial melodrama is required.  The soundtrack, a compilation of classical piano pieces, is reserved, solemn, almost hushed; there are no weeping strings to be heard.  There are clear lessons to be learned, but no preaching.  A great many questions are raised, or hinted at, and most are left unanswered, lingering in the air with the dust of the projector screen. 

            The atmosphere of the movie is captured perfectly in one, brief scene, when Midori comes across a painted clay disc of some sort with Kyota’s handprint in it.  It’s a relic of a long-forgotten art class, the sort of thing most parents toss into the trash years before the child starts high school.  Here, though, for a brief moment, it’s far, far more than just a pottery project- as she silently contemplates it, sliding her fingers into the smooth, hardened grooves, it seems to represent everything about their family up to that point in time, as if simply holding it can make things be just the way they were.  The scene, like the movie, lingers on, long after it’s over.   

Next film: The Horses of Fukushima

-Noah Franc 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nippon Reviews: Shazai No Osuma (The Apology King)

The Apology King (Shazai No Osuma): Written by Kankuro Kudo, directed by Nobuo Mizuta.  Starring: Sadao Abe, Mao Inoue, Masaki Okada, Yutaka Takenouchi, and Machiko Ono.  Running Time: 128 minutes. 

Rating: 3/4  

            We’ve all had those moments when we’ve had to apologize, and we’ve also all had moments where we expected an apology in turn.  Maybe we got it, maybe we didn’t.  Maybe when we said sorry, we meant it, and did whatever we needed to do to set things right.  And maybe we were lying through our teeth, counting down the minutes between breaking off the obligatory remorseful eye contact and rushing back home to catch the latest episode of CSI: Fargo Breaking Homeland.  I certainly know that I have never enjoyed apologizing, especially when I am fully aware of my guilt. 

            For douchefaces like me, thankfully, there is Yuzuru Kuroshima (Sadao Abe), a man obsessed with finding the perfect apology and sporting a haircut that would make Coconut Head weep with despair.  Burned (literally) by a careless ramen cook and unable to get the simple, straight-up apology he sought, he has devoted his life to perfecting the art of Dogeza (a very formal apology in Japan), so that he can help others fully shed themselves of whatever guilt they may be lugging around on their shoulders.  At his side is Noriko (Mao Inoue), a young law student who agrees to work for him after a particularly passionate apology of his saves her from having to work as a call girl.  Together, they seek to find the perfect apology for, in turn, a perverted and sexist underwear designer, the celebrity parents of a (seemingly) violent actor, a work-obsessed lawyer guilty over his treatment of his daughter, and literally the entire nation of Japan after a group of filmmakers and diplomats manage to offend a major trading partner on just about every conceivable level.  

            It’s a film that runs solely on its own vibrant energy, and while it doesn’t build up quite enough to fully sustain itself all the way through, Apology King is a fun, fun ride from start to finish.  The director, Nobuo Mizuta, gave a short introduction to the film at its premier, and even with the necessity of a translator, the bubbling, impish humor that clearly underlies each scene shone through in how he carried himself.  From the start, we are treated to a dressing-down of the Japanese habit of apologizing far too often; at the start, Yuzuru tells Noriko that the best way to apologize is right away, even before you know for sure if you did something wrong.  Overreacting to your mistakes is always best; when done fervently enough, the person starts to feel uncomfortable about being deferred to so much, and will forgive much easier.  And for maximum effect, be sure to perfectly time hitting the ground with your forehead if the full Dogeza- a formal, hands-and-face-on-the-ground apology bow- is needed.  We are, however, also reminded in a few thoughtful scenes that, even when they’re overdone, truly sincere apologies can go a long way towards making people’s lives a little bit happier. 

            Apologies are not the only comedic source utilized though- sexism, obsession with work, the movie business (ironically), government officials, celebrity gossip culture, and even some subtle differences between Japanese and Western culture are all brought in to be smacked around one way or another.  The linchpin pulling all these disparate elements together is Yuzuru, whose boyish exuberance makes a functioning character out of what, in a great many hands, could easily be a disaster of a lead.  He’s excellently foiled by everyone around him, essentially all of whom are made the straight man in his presence by default. 

            The absurdity of each circumstance he and his “patients” find themselves in builds itself up into an extended climactic gag that will either make or break the film for many viewers.  Having thought about it for several days, I’m still not entirely sure if I thought the joke was genuinely funny, but darn if they don’t hammer it in deep, and I can’t help but admire the commitment that takes.  It follows one of the more debatable traditions of comedy, namely that anything can become funny if you do it long and determinedly enough. 

            It won’t make you cry, and it won’t make your heart throb.  I never fell in love with the characters like I did with last year’s Key of Life.  But it will make you laugh, a lot, and that’s more than enough. 

Next film: Like Father, Like Son

-Noah Franc 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nippon 2014!

            A hyperactive man-child with an obsession for the Dogeza, the traditional Japanese form for apologizing.  A proud and self-conscious businessman, forced to reevaluate his deep-seated beliefs on what it means to be a father.  Horses used for important cultural events, forcibly abandoned after the disaster at Fukushima.   An ex-samurai, seeking redemption by renouncing his violent past.  A smart but indecisive college graduate, unwilling to think about life beyond the next meal.  A girl who passes through a mysterious portal, and finds herself in a world where everything is, quite literally, upside down. 

            These were the cinematic experiences I had the privilege of enjoying at Nippon Connection this year, the annual Japanese film festival held in Frankfurt am Main.  From May 27th through June 1st, dozens upon of dozens of film premiers, retrospectives, specials, and cultural events took place at the three primary hubs of the festival- the Mousonturm, the Naxoshalle, and, for the second showings of certain films, the Mal Seh’n Kino. 

            When at Nippon, the word of the week is always pink.  All various shades of pink, mixed with the occasional white, or brown.  Shining through paper-covered lights or globes hanging from the ceiling, set upon the origami table in the middle of the front hall, plastered on the sides of the food and merchandise stands, or striking the eye from the banners and posters on the walls.  Pink on the bags and t-shirts that I absurdly love walking away with.  Follow the pink, and you can’t possibly get lost. 

             Given that the festival coincided with another one of Frankfurt’s innumerable street festivals, I was rather glad to see so many people present, and a great many of the viewings I attended were shown to full houses.  If I were to use one word to describe the scene at the Mousonturm hub, it would be heartening.  Heartening to see so many different people from countless walks of life coming together to enjoy good food, good music, good conversation (hopefully), and, when there’s time left over, good film. 

            An undertaking like Nippon is a trying task, but as always, the volunteer crews that make the festival function were up to the task.  A special shout-out to everyone who gave of their time, energy, and, inevitably, their mental well-being to make Nippon a great experience for all the guests, including my freeloading self.  

            Yesterday, the website for the festival officially posted the winners of the four award categories up for grabs this time around.  They are as follows:

Nippon Cinema Award: Pecoross’ Mother And Her Days (Azuma Morisaki)
Nippon Visions Award: Antonym (Natsuka Kusano)
Nippon Visions Audience Award: Tale of a Butcher Shop (Aya Hanabusa)
VGF Nippon In Motion Award: Onigiri No Origami (Christine Mai & David Clausmeier)

            As for me, over the next few weeks, I will be posting my reviews of the 6 movies that I had the time to see at the festival, none of which I would call a disappointment, and a few of which that, like last year, could very well end up on my Top 10 list for the year come next January.  All are movies I fully recommend to anyone open to sampling something new in their cinematic palate.  Stay tuned. 

-Noah Franc