A brief report from the “Asia & Japan 4” program of the Short Shorts Film Festival, which was presented at the Laforet Museum in Harajuku at 5:30 pm on June 9, followed by a short question and answer session with two directors and two actors.
The three films in this program (two from Japan, one from China) are competing for the eventual title of Grand Prix, which will give the winning film eligibility for the Academy Awards. Interestingly, a third of the “Asia International” films (from South Korea, China, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Kyrgyzstan, among other countries) are directed by women.
Screenings are continuing in Yokohoma and Tokyo through June 26 and are free of charge. Tickets can be purchased through Peatix.
On to the films!
Sociopaths / ソシオパス (2015)
Director: A.T. (Asai Takeshi)
Running time: 5:24
Summary: A young girl witnesses an android doing nice things for people in the city and notices that no one says “thank you.”
This film had very high production values (Asai has apparently done a lot of TV commercials), and the ending was certainly unexpected. Overall, though, the “message” (basically “no one’s nice to each other anymore”) was heavy-handed.
Anaer / アナエル (2015)
Director: KunRu Song
Running time: 21:17
Summary: A woman returns home for her sister’s wedding and clashes with her conservative father.
For the first five minutes of this film I experienced something extremely rare–a heavy sense of uncertainty about where and when the story was taking place. The credits were written in Chinese characters but also in a script that looked similar to Arabic. The language spoken by the characters was unfamiliar to me, and the program notes said nothing about a specific location beyond “China.” The landscape looked barren and a bit like Mongolia, and several of the female characters wore colorful headscarves. Was this Mongolia? Tibet? Kyrgyzstan? Eventually when the characters mentioned their Muslim faith and several Chinese cities it dawned on me that this was a Uighur community in Xinjiang. The disorientation was actually intriguing, and I was glad that the director hadn’t provided more details, instead allowing the audience to gradually figure it out on their own (or at least those in the audience who, like me, weren’t familiar with this region & language).
Though a lot of the performances felt forced (I’m guessing that the actors were not professionals) and the story got a bit muddy at the end, this was still a fascinating look at a part of the world that I’ve seen very little of in cinema. Plenty of lovely framing of the landscape, the bright colors of mosques, and the traditional Uighur wedding clothes, which look especially vibrant against the earthy, mostly barren hills of Xinjiang. Looking forward to seeing more from KunRu Song.
Check out the trailer here.
Hypnotism for Love / 夕暮れの催眠教室 (2016)
Director: Hiroki Inoue
Running time: 25:00
Summary: Two high school students try to hypnotize their crushes, but things take an unexpected turn when one of the girls discovers she has feelings for her friend’s crush.
Another case of a film with high production values and a less-than-original story. In this case, though, it’s elevated by the refreshingly authentic performances of the two young actresses (Juna Aoki and Nina Hasegawa), particularly in their final scene, which apparently required quite a few takes to satisfy the director.
Check out the trailer here.
As you might have guessed, I was more impressed with production quality than story with this particular group of films, especially when I compared them to the half-dozen films I saw at last year’s Pia Film Festival (those looked more like student work). Kudos also to the host and guests, who moved seamlessly between English, Japanese, and Chinese (via an interpreter) for the introduction and the question and answer session.
My biggest complaint by far–and I hate to voice it since the festival is mostly free–is the poor quality of the English translations, both in the films’ subtitles and the festival’s promotional materials. (Full disclosure: I narrated a promotional video for Short Shorts and also noticed the awkward translations then–I tried to correct the more egregious problems, but as usual time constraints meant that a full re-write wasn’t possible). The promotional content is understandable and at least hasn’t been done entirely with machine translation (something that does happen), but it has an awkward quality. This is more of an issue during the films themselves, where the translations occasionally don’t make sense or are just “off” enough to be distracting. I realize that budget and time constraints were probably the culprit, but cleaning up the translations would definitely make a difference in how the English-speaking portion of the audience perceives each film.