Thursday, August 19, 2021

Japan Cuts 2021 Edition: Aug 20 - Sept 2 & New York Asian Film Festival: Aug 6 - 22 | Nippon Connection, Japan Film Festival Plus | Virtual Festival Exhibitions

Now in the second year of the global coronavirus pandemic, many festivals continue to pivot to online virtual settings for their programming. Last year saw a number of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", and more specifically, Japan Foundation's global Japan Film Festival Plus, Japan Society New York's Japan Cuts, Hawaii International Film Festival's J-Fest, and the Chicago Japan Film Collective, continuing their role as standard-bearers for the issuance of quality film from Japan. All of which presented their array of new cinema in the unusual festival setting of online platforms in 2021. This was also mirrored in Europe by examples like Frankfurt's excellent Nippon Connection, which also had its second year of virtual exhibitions. This year the programmers chose to make it a hybrid bridging of in-person screenings and virtual festival setting, "Nippon Connection Film Festival Goes Hybrid". For further reading, The Japan Times feature highlights the unexpected convergence of quality and volume on offer from the latter, "Frankfurt's Nippon Connection Brings Together an Extensive Collection of Japanese Films". There's also no shortage of excellence presented annually by Japan Society's North American setting of, "Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric". Year in and year out, the festival offers "Asian Cinema That Pauses for Reflection", "Life in the No-Go Zone of Fukushima and Two Views on Husbandry", "The Hard Road of the Japanese Documentary Maker", and generally an expansive representation of, "The Best of Contemporary Japanese Cinema". This year's installment is also a hybrid event, with both in-person screenings and a virtual cinema platform, each with distinct offerings. Not to be overlooked, "The 2021 New York Asian Film Festival Brings the Goods", in both in-person and virtual settings. The latter hosted this year by Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema, with some 33 films on offer.

These various festivals continue to represent a bounty of Japanese-specific cinema over the course of the two decades since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike,are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Though one is hard-pressed to see the abundance offered by these voices in domestic theaters. Particularly regionally here in the northwest as we have seen a significant dropoff of such titles in the programming offered in the once-abundant Seattle International Film Festival. Make no mistake, while there has been a dearth of opportunities to see these films on domestic screens, this is not representative of the volume and quality still issuing from Japan. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)". 2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors, it saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. Fukada utilizing the global platform of his Cannes win to state that, "Japanese Cinema Must Adapt to Survive". Of this new batch of directors, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" that can be seen to follow explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In". In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", with new films by both Fukada and Hamaguchi premiering at Cannes to outstanding reviews in 2020 and 2021. A string of films in the last half decade that have been rich in character nuance, and high in drama have distinguished Kazuya Shiraishi, particularly that of his most recent, "'Last of the Wolves': A Sequal With as Much Bite as the First". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence".