Filmic Kaleidoscope at the Japanese Film Festival 2016

As originally featured with Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival

The Japanese Film Festival 2016 marked celebrations of the successful collaboration between the Embassy of Japan and access>CINEMA for the eighth year in a row.  Comprised of forty-five screenings countrywide, the assortment was unveiled in locations at Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Sligo, Galway, Dundalk and Waterford. The diverse programme of twenty-two multifarious films featured works from some of the most renowned directors in contemporary Japanese cinema.

Beginning as early as the 3rd April the festival kicked off in Cork city with a screening of Initiation Love イニシエーション・ラブat the Triskel Arts Centre. Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi and set in the 1980s, it depicts the headlong zealous affections of a young couple. Suzuki and Mayu find their eager relationship strained between the obstinate realities of life and their resolve to maintain a long distance relationship. The viewer is privy to their transforming relationship, as the film seeks to explore the fatigue of bonds when faced with overwhelming obstacles. From the opening the audience is warned about the surprise alternate ending, which differs from the original acclaimed novel by Kurumi Inui of the same name. Tsutsumi raises problematic questions regarding the expiration of a first love, the offbeat resolution haunting the viewer long after the credits roll.

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The Dublin based leg of the festival took place between 13th and 21st of this month. One portion of the collection, The Case of Hana & Alice 花とアリス殺人事件, was screened in Light House Cinema on 16th April.The feature shadowed our protagonist Tetsuko (to be later nicknamed Alice) as she discovers moving to a new town is never easy, especially when met with supernatural mysteries such as the ‘Judas murder’. From the opening Alice is confronted by numerous challenges despite best efforts to fit in at her new school. As a result she is compelled to investigate the strange legend, hoping to be accepted into the community by partaking it its superstitions. Drawn to her mysteriously withdrawn neighbour Hana whilst trying to source answers, we follow their high-spirited investigation in this amiable prequel to Shunji’s 2004 flick. The director’s first rotoscoped animation is jovial from the opening, rounded with a heartening score and infectious curiosity.

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Three Stories of Love 恋人たちwas released in 2015 by award-winning director Ryosuke Hashiguchi, his first feature since All Around Us in 2008. Hashiguchi’s early work arguably paved the way for a new wave of independent filmmakers in the Japanese Film Industry. A director known particularly for his subject matter pertaining to the representation LGBT issues, most famously his work promotes the universality of emotion. The film was hailed as the best Japanese film of 2015 in the Kinema Junpo annual critics’ poll and was screened as part of the festival on 14th April. The audience is privy to the three distinct lives of Takashi, Atsushi and Toko later connected through their struggles to cope with tragedy. Taking his previous work as an example one quickly confirms that Hashiguchi is no stranger to the subject of loss straining a relationship. It forms an exploration into the significance of love within a life. The viewer follows this tripartite patchwork, from one man failing to cope with the senseless murder of his wife, a successful lawyer reasoning with the overwhelming impossibility of unrequited adoration, and finally a suppressed housewife navigating life around her emotionally apathetic husband.

The intensity imbued in emotionally charged objects alongside a sentimental attitude towards life is a common theme of Japanese cinema, as seen in Hashiguchi’s work. Early in the screening it is inferred that the notion of sinking or failing in daily life was to be the overarching theme. The feature plays on the voyeuristic aspect of human nature, meandering through a ream of unlikely pairings in both friendship and romance. The plot preys on the anxiety of the failed connection, working to emphasize the notion of one stranger’s unconscious effect on the life of another. Sensitive, vulnerable, with unavoidable realism; it breathes life into the theory of three degrees of separation.

This visceral and passionate account of life in contemporary Japan teaches the importance of recognition of other’s emotions, highlighting how we seek to distance ourselves from these expressive realities. Our three leads cross over in seeking serenity and contentedness, although their methods alternate between healing and harmful. These positive and negative forces are represented through the symbolic omnipresence of water and cigarettes throughout. Hashiguchi involves notions of performativity within society and the strain its fragmentation has on an individual. Following the three stories we are privy to the disparity between the internal self and the publicly established self. Despite the difficult journey the viewer is left feeling hopeful, acknowledging the importance of humble bonds and simple pleasures “life is ok when you eat well and laugh”.

“I guess in the end it all comes down to the credibility of the story you’re trying to tell / I don’t believe in using confrontations like those as a means to suddenly force a change in a character. Those kinds of solutions don’t exist in real life either. It would become unbelievable if you wouldn’t leave some loose ends.” – Interview with Ryosuke Hashiguchi (Tom Mes, Midnight Eye: Visions of Japanese Cinema)

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Director Masakazu Sugita’s 2014 feature film Joy of Man’s Desiring 人の望みの喜びよsimilarly enunciates aspects of the individual human experience within an overwhelming world. Sugita himself was a childhood survivor of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, and was incited to make the film following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. This tender yet overwrought depiction examines the resilience of a sibling bond following the tragic death of their parents. Twelve year old Harun struggles with the manifestation of grief, renouncement of guilt and adjustment to the curious reality that life goes on. Her distress is heightened as the kindly aunt and uncle who adopted the children choose to withhold knowledge of their death from her younger brother Shota, vying to preserve his innocence. In tandem Sugita’s feature is distanced from the fragmented imagery associated with the crisis of natural disaster, opting instead for a more subdued slant.

 

A great deal of the pleasure one extracts from a festival such as this, as with many subtitled features, is the access to an alternative filmic scope. Something to relish, it presents the English speaker with a certain familiarization of significant aspects of contemporary Japanese culture. Additionally we can look much forward to the next festival instalment, with 2017 marking the 60thanniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries.

                                                                                                                       

      By Jessica Mc Kinney

Feminine Space in Jesse Jone’s No More Fun and Games

As originally published with Hunt and Gather:
Musings regarding the curation of female space in Jesse Jones’ recent exhibition.

“In truth, there is nothing [women] can call their own but death, not even that small model of their servile clay which forms a paste and a cover to their bones” – Anna Doyle Wheeler

Jesse Jones latest work No More Fun and Games is currently being exhibited at the Hugh Lane Gallery until 26th June 2016. It features themes of female empowerment and social renewal, lending itself to numerous interpretations of the feminine space. As an Irish based artist her work comes before Dublin’s public eye at a significant time, coinciding with the 1916 commemoration. Jones work is noteworthy at a time when women are being rightly reremembered as part of Ireland’s greater cultural memory.

The exhibition births with a pungent pink bloom, erupting in the opening passage adjacent to white winding hallway. On entering you are met with the curious music of Gerald Busby, his score Pneuma had been commissioned by Jones specifically for the exhibition. His work had previously featured in Robert Altman’s film 3 Women (1977) which heavily influenced the curation. The next sound is that of the great wave/spectre/shadow, as the wispy curtain is announced like rain patter. The arrival is as immediate as its subsequent slinking away. The great seam of it winds you along, commanding with the charm of a great serpent. Eerie would be the easy word.

As curator Michael Dempsey stated the exhibition seeks to raise feminist consciousness, mingling notions of consumption and production. One of the most immersive aspects is the incorporation of the cinematic features, introducing dramatic facets instead of focusing on aesthetics alone. The long extension of the forearm adopts the likeness of a snake as it slithers through the rooms. The hand itself is ghostly, beckoning with perfectly polished talons. The hesitant outreach winds seductively around the speakers dotted throughout until it comes to rest with a shudder. The pattern appears cyclical, raising questions regarding space allotted for feminine presence with its movements. One cannot but question the drive, is the presence repressed or territorial. Resigned to a slim-lined path throughout the gaping gallery space, the patriarchal expectation of female space is here easily suggested.

The chrome room, Gallery 14 that had been ordered by the Curatorial Collective of the Feminist Parasite Institution beholds seven pieces by ranging female artists. These pieces are related to Jones’ assertion of female representation within artistic institutions, opposed to the space previously taken up with the patriarchy. Condensed in one corner of the room are two works of unmistakable manifestation, Study of a Young Girl (1918-1922) by Gwen John and The Girl in White (1910-1912) by Grace Henry. These haunting depictions of women with steadfast eyes form an interesting commentary on female presence and the empowered artist. Gwen John is just one early instance of an artist who favoured her work at the refutation of the domestic. She once encapsulated her opinion simply in a letter to a friend “I think to do beautiful pictures we ought to be free from family conventions and ties.”


Further along the wall is Lodge (2016) by Elizabeth Magill. At a glance this work depicts a ghostly white house eclipsed by a darkened forest. If considered alongside musings of gendered space, the old home is reminiscent of restrictive domestic space. In the past the home was often considered to be an extension of the feminine, further representative of well rooted gender imbalance.


The music reveals an increasingly melancholy edge the longer you spend in the rooms. In 3 Women, just as the exhibition, the score appeared lulling in the opening. However this is sharply contrasted with the stark bodily imagery throughout the feature, familiarly pungent in colour. Just as the looped curtain moves throughout the gallery space, the progression of the film is cyclical itself. Altman’s influential film features fluidity and synchronization as a recurring motif. Due to the empowerment and unison of the feminine portrayed it is clear to see why the feature had influenced Jones’ curation.

By Jessica McKinney

Volunteering at Audi Dublin’s International Film Festival

As originally featured on Hunt and Gather
A short piece detailing the cultural volunteer experience as this encompassing Dublin based festival.

Certainly I had never been as happy after five hours sleep as I had been on my first day of volunteering with Dublin’s International Film Festival. Anticipation rumbled as I was stationed as an information point on the infamous stairs of Lighthouse Cinema. I later reaffirmed that my delighted disposition was second only to the unfettered glee of those who had gathered that morning for the early screening of Kung Foo Panda 3. The volunteer experience provides a through the looking-glass familiarity with Dublin cultural entertainment scene. This year’s festival strode to be all-encompassing, especially with the incorporation of the Fantastic Flicks selection for kids. The assortment included samples of subtitled film, directly addressing the stigma of age limit associated with accessing international film. The crowd’s steady descent to screen one, peppered with karate chops and painted faces, was imbued that unmistakable ‘looking forward to’.  This year’s film festival aimed to be wholly inclusive and by day one that is how it was; smiles were inescapable.

I left Disorder in a sweat with my back arched, fists clenched and eyes darting. The safe space that we had thus far come to expect of the darkened cinema is all but shattered through the viewing. Directed by Alice Winocour in 2015, the film reveals itself to be the sort that transposes the emotion it imbues. An Afghanistan veteran is charged with the protection of a wealthy businessman’s family, although the situation quickly reveals itself to far from the original ease promised. Throughout the screening I noticed other members of the audience trying to protect themselves from the intensity that we had subjected ourselves to. Vincent hardly left our screens, incorporating the audience as part of his charge throughout the film. Until the close the audience is left questioning whether there is a bitter conspiracy underway or if the ex-soldier’s own PTSD had reached a terrifying and delusional peak.

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Sandra, Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa, is a hysterical and emotionally fraught sample of sixties Italian melodrama directed by Luchino Visconti. With Claudia Cardinale at the epicentre, it is difficult to evade the intensity of the feature through the steady stream of emotional character close-ups. Duality amid deception is the name of the game. Sandra finds herself trapped between the men who represent various points in her secretive life akin to innumerable representations of her authentic self. The derelict provincial town with its seeping foundations is further illustrative of fractured relationships within childhood, paralleled by the loss of innocence. As the film winds on, it seemed that at any point the entire screen was consumed by emotion the spectator was in turn consumed by another wave of realisation. The hectic weather conditions have a unstoppered, almost carnal brink. This is especially prevalent in a stifling comparison drawn with the camera skulking through the lofty, suffocating domestic space. The morbid pressures of her brother, seemingly impossible for her to evade, contribute to the dramatic crescendo. With a dependent sibling who has exhausted his avenues of emotional blackmail, ultimately we witness a woman who extracts herself in an act of self-preservation.

A choice section of Giacomo Leopardi’s ‘Le Ricordanze’ provided inspiration for the morose and obsessive tendencies of the film. Taken from his collected works, here translated by Eammon Grennan, the poem is referenced within the film:

Glimmering stars of the Great Bear,

I never thought I’d be back to see you

Shining down on my father’s garden,

Nor talk to you ever again from the windows

Of this house where I spent my childhood

And saw the last of my happiness vanish

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1916 at the Pictures was comprised of a Charlie Chaplin feature marathon based in City Hall. The collection presented several early restorations including The Bank, The Champion, and The Tramp. City hall was empty in its majesty, having arrived early in order to set up, and so we waited for the crowds to gather. Part and parcel of drumming up anticipation saw leaflets steadily distributed as the outdoor screen was readied for the synchronised external showing. When the hall began the fill up like a drum the pianist commenced. The live classical music was unmistakable as it filtered outside amid the laughter of the kids in the front rows of the showing. The throngs that gathered to watch the open-air screen for pockets of time were the people who otherwise had no time to spare, those ferrying to and from work. Strangers chuckled and gazed collectively, committed to just a few moments of stolen unity despite the bitter cold.

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Black Mountain Poets is unapologetically incandescent, entirely bumbling and equally charming. Almost entirely improvised and filmed in just five days in the Welsh black mountains, the film is the third installment of director Jamie Adams similarly offhand features. The camera tails two lost souls, mismatched con-artist sisters on the latest leg of their badly gauged heists. Kitted out in their ill-fitted borrowed identities, we trawl through cluttered memories and resilient bonds during their refuge at a poetry retreat weekend. Featuring half-hearted scorn amongst steady stacked hills, it is surprisingly reminiscent of a flippant Blair Witch Project. The depiction of the correlation between poetry and affection is possibly the scruffiest albeit truly candid it has ever been; a jerry-rigged clusterfuck. The Walker sisters, portrayed by Dolly Wells and Alice Lowe, must learn to manoeuvre the strain as not everyone gets to be the moody-John-Lennon-one.

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In its entirety the experience was one of variety and inclusion; from chaperoning talks on festival programming at the Teacher’s Club to working hospitality on closing night in the green room of the Savoy Cinema. I was one of the guys behind the velvet rope and it was absurd. For those looking to find some of their people, this is one way to suss them. It was a prodigious experience and I welcome warmly the next installment.

By Jessica Mc Kinney