Tag Archives: Japan

The AFI FEST Interview: THE RED TURTLE Director Michaël Dudok de Wit

Japan’s Studio Ghibli has long been the gold standard in animated features, producing revered masterpieces such as GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997) and SPIRITED AWAY (2001) since its inception in 1985. For Ghibli’s first international co-production, the studio co-founded by legends Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata invited Dutch filmmaker Michaël Dudok de Wit (Oscar® winner for his 2000 animated short FATHER AND DAUGHTER) to create his first feature-length film. The result, after eight years of work, is a breathtaking, original fable about a shipwrecked man’s struggle to escape a deserted island, and the unexpected course his life takes when he’s prevented from leaving by the titular sea creature. The film dispenses with spoken dialogue, instead allowing Dudok de Wit’s vivid, meticulously rendered visuals to guide us through a lush natural landscape that contains both unimaginable hardships and simple, potent truths about family, aging and life.

AFI: What was it like working with Studio Ghibli as a first-time feature director? How were ideas exchanged?

Michaël Dudok de Wit: We had an excellent start, because I adore Studio Ghibli’s films and they expressed their strong appreciation of my previous work. I went to Studio Ghibli from time to time during the development phase of the story to discuss the latest progress and at one point I stayed for a month in Tokyo, working with intensely on storyboard changes. At Studio Ghibli, it is the film director who has the final say on the creative aspect of the film, and though the producers liked sharing their opinions with me, they did not impose them. I in return asked them a lot of questions, and we generally had fruitful, non-competitive conversations. To me, that was ideal.

AFI: Describe your collaboration with large teams of animators.

MDDW: There was a striking bond between us all and I felt nourished by that. The artists were all European freelancers, mostly French, selected carefully during a long recruiting period. Actually, the selection process was not unlike the selection of the samurais in Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI.

I’m an animator, background artist and designer myself, so my colleagues and I often understood each other intuitively. The main team worked in Angoulême, a small town in France, and most of us lived at walking distance from the studio, also from our favorite bars and from the local food market.

The idea was to have all artists working in the same building, but we needed extra help, so we also collaborated with an animation studio in Hungary, Kecskemètfilm. To my relief that worked really well, because the Hungarians were excellent animators and their team had a strong team spirit. The exchange of animated scenes between France and Hungary was done instantaneously via the internet.

As I was both directing and exploring, I had to learn how to cope with many tasks all at the same time. That was new and extremely challenging for someone who is used to concentrate uninterruptedly on one or two tasks per day.

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AFI: You spent five years working on the story of this film. What aspect of the story changed the most from the first draft of the script that you presented to Studio Ghibli?

MDDW: The ending. The first draft had a fine ending, the story felt complete, whole, but one day, actually while I was walking on the street, I suddenly imagined the new, current ending. I was immediately moved to tears by the beauty of the new ending.

AFI: What was your biggest challenge in developing the lush soundscape and intricate sound mixing for the film?

MDDW: Amazingly, there was no big challenge. The sound was created and mixed by a well-established sound studio, Piste Rouge in Paris. They understood right away that this film did not need cartoony sounds and that the noises of nature had a striking presence throughout the film. The sound artists also worked closely with the music composer Laurent Perez del Mar to create the right chemistry between the music and the nature sounds.

AFI: Since THE RED TURTLE is dialogue-free, what was your technique for ensuring the animated characters could clearly communicate thoughts and feelings with one another, as well as with the audience?

MDDW: The sensitive scenes, I mean the scenes where the absence of dialogue was a real challenge, were animated quite late in the animation phase, to ensure that the animators would feel really at ease and intuitive with the characters. These scenes also took much longer to animate than usual. Moreover, we had filmed live actors who played those scenes, and the live footage was used by the animators, not for rotoscoping of course, but to use for inspiration. And the human sounds were important. Absence of dialogue can mean that the spectator has less empathy with the characters, but in the sound phase all the human characters were given natural breathing sounds, and that made a huge difference, we found.

THE RED TURTLE screens at AFI FEST 2016 on Tuesday, 7:00 P.M. November 15, at the Egyptian Theater and Wednesday, 1:15 P.M. at the TCL Chinese Mann 4, November 16, as part of the World Cinema section of the festival.

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FILM REVIEW: The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, 2013): Japan

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during AFI Filmfest 2013.

The Wind Rises, is a new animated, full-length, feature film from legendary Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki announced at this year’s Venice Film Festival this will be his last film. In 1997 his Princess Mononoke, was the highest revenue grossing film in the history of Japan at the time of its release and it also received the Japanese equivalent of an Academy Award for Best Film. Miyazaki is also well known for the films Spirited Away, (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle, (2004) In 2003 Miyazaki received an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for the film Spirited Away.

His films have garnered international acclaim from critics and have provided Miyazaki public recognition within Japan. His films are known for compelling characters, engaging plots and eye-catching animation. Remarkable by today’s standards his films allow no more than 10% of the footage to come from computer animation.

In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a real-life aeronautical engineer who designed fighter aircraft in Japan during WWII. The film opens with the young Jiro fantasizing of his plane flying above his hometown. As I watched the scene unfold, a rather powerful ominous feeling surfaced as I was reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s opening scene from the Nazi propaganda documentary, Triumph of the Will. Nevertheless the early moments of the film are very heartwarming as Miyazaki chooses to highlight Jiro’s youth as an older brother to a delightfully spirited younger sister in a single parented household run by their kind and caring mother.

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Jiro’s passion throughout the film is making good airplanes. Jiro’s daydreaming, which he does a few times during the story’s arc. Admittedly, several of my favorite moments are Jiro’s imaginings with Count Caproni, a larger-than-life mustachioed Italian airplane designer who mentors Jiro with playful and good-natured ribbing, that provide insight into  Jiro’s creative passion. Jiro finds his inspiration through such moments and Miyazaki makes space for them throughout the film.

The story is partially based on Tatsuo Hori’s 1938 novelette, “The Wind Has Risen.” Miyazaki’s animation provides beautiful plush scenery with Monet-like backdrops and landscapes providing striking visuals while creating a powerful nostalgia for a simpler time lightly brushing over the complications of war and economic depression. With such a breathtaking mise-en-scene it’s no wonder a young Jiro falls in love with the  young woman he saved during a traumatic, historic earthquake a few years before (the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake).

In direct juxtaposition to this frantic and rather manic scenario in the aftermath of the earthquake, young Jiro finds himself vacationing in a rural setting enjoying the greenery and the soft “rising” winds complete with majestic and billowing, flowery clouds when he coincidentally crosses paths with the beautiful girl he saved from the earthquake as she paints poetically on a hillside overlooking the spectacular countryside.

The Wind Rises, is a very light-hearted, entertaining film. The film focuses pretty much exclusively on the protagonist, Jiro, as an idealistic engineer whose primary purpose in life is to make planes. Granted, he falls in love and rubs elbows with German plane builders during WWII. Yet, WWII and the social unrest after the  Great Kanto Earthquake are left virtually untouched. Tellingly, Jiro’s concern at the end of the war was over the planes that didn’t come back. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend the film for children and for adults with a penchant for Monet-esque visuals.

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SBIFF The Showcase – Tampopo

NEW RESTORATION OF THE 1985 JAPANESE COMEDY MASTERPIECE!

Screening:
Sunday November 6 @ 2:00pm
Monday November 7 @ 7:30pm
Tuesday November 8 @ 5:00pm
Wednesday November 9 @ 7:30pm
at the Riviera Theatre
2044 Alameda Padre Serra

Juzo Itami’s rapturous “ramen western” returns to U.S. screens for the first time in decades, in a new 4K restoration. The tale of an enigmatic band of ramen ronin who guide the widow of a noodle shop owner on her quest for the perfect recipe, Tampopo serves up a savory broth of culinary adventure seasoned with offbeat comedy sketches and the erotic exploits of a gastronome gangster. Sweet, sexy, surreal, and mouthwatering, Tampopo remains one of the most delectable examples of food on film.

TAMPOPO
Written & Directed by Jûzô Itami
Starring Nobuko Miyamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country of Origin: Japan
Running Time: 115 min
Subtitled

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Tampopo is right up there with Ratatouille and Big Night when it comes to peerless movies about food.”
Joe Morgenstern – Wall Street Journal

“It’s a funny story beautifully told.”
Gene Siskel – Chicago Tribune

“Charming and touching, with lots of sumptuous meals to inspire you to get cooking.”
David Parkinson – Empire

“The movie, which Itami calls a ‘Noodle Western,’ is a rambunctious mixture of the bawdy and the sublime.”
Hal Hinson – Washington Post

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(Source: sbiff.org/tampopo/)

Girls und Panzer Film Opens in U.S. on November 18 With San Francisco Premiere

Film distribution company Eleven Arts confirmed on Thursday that it will release the English dub of Girls und Panzer der Film in theaters on November 18. The company will hold the official premiere at the New People Cinema in San Francisco at 7:00 p.m. that day. The event will include a Q&A with the English dub‘s director after the film’s screening. Eleven Arts will announce more screenings in other theaters on Friday.

Sentai Filmworks licensed the film and previously announced plans to release the film in theaters in November. Sentai Filmworks also plans to reveal more details on “distribution, release date, and streaming offerings” at a later date.

The Girls und Panzer film is director Tsutomu Mizushima’s follow-up to his 2012 Girls und Panzer television anime about schoolgirls who learn to battle in tanks with other teams nationwide.

(Source: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com)

Audience Award Winner announced for SBIFF’s The Wave!

JIN MOYOUNG’S “MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER” WINS AUDIENCE AWARD AT SBIFF’S THE WAVE FILM FESTIVAL
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SBIFF’s “The Wave Film Festival” concluded this past weekend with Jin Moyoung’s MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER from South Korea winning the Audience Award sponsored by the Santa Barbara Independent. This Wave highlighted 11 brand new Asian films from South Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER is a South Korean documentary by Jin Moyoung and stars Jung Jaeyoung, Kim Minhee. MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER out-grossed INTERSTELLAR in its opening weekend in South Korea and went on to become the highest grossing indie/doc in Korean history.

Mickey Duzdevich, The Wave Director, commented, “Jim Moyoung’s documentary is the type of quality foreign film that we strive to bring audiences through the Wave Film Festival. It is so well deserving of the audience award, and there is no question why it is one of the most successful South Korean docs to date.”

An intimate portrait of an elderly couple nearing the end of life, MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER is as delicate as it is raw. Observing this fragile couple in their South Korean home, director Jin Moyoung’s camera acts as a fly on the wall, capturing a deep love painted through simple acts of affection—from a good-natured leaf fight to a gentle caress of the cheek. No filmmaking tricks are necessary, as the honest and tender feelings expressed by this husband and wife are all that’s needed to tell this story of true love.

“The Wave Film Festival” will return this summer on July 13th through July 17th and will highlight eleven new French Films over its five day run at the Riviera Theatre. Passes go on sale next week at www.sbiff.org.

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29th #TIFF to Celebrate Two Iconic Directors

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is pleased to announce that it will be highlighting the work of two iconic directors: Mamoru HOSODA and Shunji IWAI at the 29th TIFF, running October 25 – November 3, 2016.

 

This year’s Animation Focus will shine a spotlight on Mamoru HOSODA, the brilliantly inventive director whose Summer Wars (09) and Wolf Children (12) were local and international hits, and whose latest masterpiece, The Boy and the Beast (15), became the highest-grossing local film at the Japanese box office in 2015, as well as being distributed in nearly 50 territories overseas. Hosoda’s universal themes and storytelling genius have attracted all-age audiences worldwide and his devoted fan base continues to expand with each exhilarating new release.

 

In TIFF’s Japan Now section, following his recent experiences in Hollywood and in animation, the Director in Focus will be internationally acclaimed creator Shunji IWAI, whose groundbreaking style and youth-focused vision are known as the “Iwai Aesthetic.” From Love Letter (95), which put him on the world stage, through the enduringly acclaimed All About Lily Chou-Chou (01) and Hana and Alice (04), to his latest masterpiece, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (16), Iwai’s films have continued to be in a class all their own, each a mesmerizing work of transcendent power, applauded across the globe by fans and critics alike.

The 29th TIFF will take place from October 25 – November 3, 2016 at Roppongi Hills and other venues in Tokyo.

(Source: Press release provided by TIFF Public Relations Division)

Akira Kurosawa: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Paper by Lawrence Gleeson.

I will be analyzing the three films, Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1957), and Ran (1985), in relation to how these Akira Kurosawa films represent men and their relationship to social structures, and to violence in reference to historical truth and to socio-economic realities. In Rashomon, Kurosawa breaks the traditional narrative mold of his earlier films with Arthouse Cinema depicting a murder of a samurai and the rape of his Lady by a bandit. The samurai is depicted as a clean cut, upright guardian as he walks carrying the reigns of the horse that his properly attired Japanese Lady rides upon in traditional ruling class attire complete with hat and facial netting protecting her delicate, porcelain-like skin from the harmful rays of the sun. The bandit, on the other hand, is dressed with tattered garb, no shirt, unshaven and a general unkempt appearance and he is frequently swatting and defending himself from the attention of big flies evidenced by his scratching and swatting at the loud buzzing of the flies. As the samurai and the Lady make their way through the woods, the bandit slowly watches like a snake watching his prey. Eventually, the bandit confronts the samurai in broad-action, sword dueling scenes and in hand to hand combats as daggers are brandished and eventually the bandit subdues the samurai and forcefully takes the Lady’s honor. (People: Akira Kurasawa)

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The men this film is focusing on are men that take care of the weaker sexed women and use violence to get what they want and need. (Prince) The use of violence to protect the weak and to get what is wanted will be seen again and again in Seven Samurai, in Ran, as well as in the remainder of Rashomon, as four varying versions of the same crime are presented with one version containing a hidden secret. In my opinion, this film is a reflection of Japanese society in 1950. The Japanese samurai has been killed as democratization is the driving force behind the new society and that the new culture is at risk of becoming a society of thieves and bandits. (People: Akira Kurasawa)

Americanization has been taking place with a new constitution being implemented. Furthermore, the Japanese “sword,” the army, has been removed. It is my belief the four versions represent varying perspectives on WWII. Yet, by the end of Rashomon, an acceptance of the past has taken place and hope for the future is being put forth symbolized by the wood cutter’s willingness to trade the valuable, pearl-handled dagger he kept for himself, in return for the safety and well-being of the newborn. (Prince, The Warrior’s Camera: The cinema of Akira Kurosawa) This, in my opinion, is Kurosawa showing through the woodcutter’s action that there is there is hope for the future of Japan without the weapons of the samurai and the army.

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With the 1955 film Seven Samurai, ten years have passed since the end of WWII. Japan is struggling to find it’s own identity. For the most part, Japanese society has all but turned its back on the samurai way and is leaning heavily toward a full embrace of Western ideals and economics. Kurosawa sees the ideals of the samurai as a way for Japan to embrace the past taking the strong, good ideals of the legendary samurai and reinventing the samurai as a present day, or contemporary figure as he fears Japan is losing its identity. (People: Akira Kurasawa) The film opens with the bandits coming to rob the peasant farmers of their grain and barley. The peasants can’t defend themselves and fear for their survival. They decide to hire a samurai to protect and help defend them from the marauding bandits. Interestingly, Kurosawa depicts the first samurai as out of work true to a struggling contemporary Japanese economy. The samurai prepares himself as a priest and rescues a baby from a crazed kidnapper. The kidnapper is impaled by a sword and stumbling from the hut and in slow-motion drops dead to the ground. The samurai emerges and holds the baby aloft. The samurai uses violence to protect and safeguard the baby. I believe Kurosawa uses the baby again here in Seven Samurai, as he did in Rashomon, to foreshadow a hopeful future for Japan.

The men in Seven Samurai, are distinctly drawn into two classes, the upper class samurai and the peasant farmers and bandits. Kurosawa depicts the samurai living almost exclusively by a code of loyalty, duty responsibility and honor. He embodies these men as transcending selfishness and individualism, sacrificing themselves to protect the peasants. In addition, he includes a peasant who was not born into the samurai class as the possibility of social mobility in post WWII Japanese society and through the samurai and the hard work, sense of duty and fighting loyalty of the peasants victory is possible. Kurosawa uses violence as abstract realism. The fight scenes are very physical, very kinetic. His use of the long lens and camera angles draws the viewer’s eye in and creates a very contemporary feel. (Giddens) Furthermore, in the final scenes, Kurosawa is linking the ideals of the samurai at the film’s end with the buried samurai on the hillside with the future of Japan. As Japan is struggling to find its identity Kurosawa is showing them a way through the abyss- the dirty, muddy fight scenes – through the surviving samurai tradition of loyalty, self-sacrifice and sense of duty. In the closing moments of Seven Samurai, the surviving samurai agree that they survived and that the peasant farmer’s are the ones who have won. Kurosawa is saying that the Japanese can have a better future if they are willing to reach for it and work for it.

With his final epic film, the Shakespearean Japanese interpretive, Ran, based on “King Lear,” Kurosawa has pulled away from such overt optimism of Seven Samurai, and the darker themes from his earlier Shakespearean Japanese interpretive, Throne of Blood, based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” have taken hold. Kurosawa sees his government taking sides with huge corporations at the expense of the Japanese people. A truly authentic Japanese identity post WWII is becoming very difficult. Kurosawa has for all intents and purposes lost faith in the Japanese government and it’s chance at a more hopeful, authentic Japan based on the ideals of the samurai society. Kurosawa has seen the Japanese samurai ideals subverted almost entirely into the corporation. (Nolletti) His film Ran, (1965) is a white flag to the winds of fate – the lost hope of an independent, authentic Japan. (IMDB: Akira Kurosawa) The sons of Lord Hidetora are, in my opinion, representative of the sons of Japan after WWII. Not to be content with their individual kingdoms, each is driven to conquer, capture and unify the people by a woman, Lady Kaede who is hell bent on revenging her family’s demise at the hand of Lord Hidetora years earlier. A case can be made Japan had come full circle from the civil warring era that Kurosawa sets these films, with serfdoms battling one another and samurais waging the battles for the lord of the serfdom, much like the warriors that served the three castles and the Lord of each castle to the economic juggernaut that Japan became in the 1970’s and early 1980’s following WWII. (Prince, “Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema”)

Seemingly, Kurosawa has thrown his hands up in the air with Ran, and has reached the conclusion that Japan is fated and his efforts to see his native country return to, or even evolve into, a strong, masculine state again will not be fulfilled. Japanese suffering is just the way the world works. Kurosawa conveys this with the image of a castle burning with horsemen rushing in and killing is everywhere. Moreover, the ending of Ran, depicts Taramaru on the top of his family’s burned out castle ruins. A drastic cut pull out gives appearance Taramaru is part of the ruin and poses the adage that Justice is blind. Seemingly, Kurosawa feels modern Japan, like, the Japan depicted in Ran, is being decided on the whims of a feminized bureaucracy attempting to avenge a humiliating defeat through the economic windfalls of hue corporations. Kurosawa’s films after this period moved into dreamlike states and fantasia.

The messages Kurosawa sets forth in these masterpieces are relevant today. Economically, Japan is struggling due to a global recession, a major earthquake and a resultant three-story tsunami (possibly fate) along with a nuclear release of radioactive material occurring at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. Notwithstanding, Japan as a culture, has succeeded in maintaining aspects of the samurai culture in its work ethic and in its value of loyalty. Nevertheless, as a nation, Japan did not invite the international community to participate in assessing and containing the nuclear spillage nor in rectifying the leakage from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. As Kurosawa elegantly, and eloquently shows, the Japanese people are a people steeped in a strong, rich and powerful tradition. One can only hope that when they need to, they ask for help in overcoming an adversary to ensure the health and survival of its people despite class differences. In closing, I believe Japan still looks to the West before it charts its course for the future – much like Kurosawa’s western genre influence in these films. And despite the great film director’s dismay, the Japanese people and the strong ideals of the samurai remain vibrant, alive as they work, struggle and fight for a better future.

Works Cited

Prince, Stephen. The Warrior’s Camera: The cinema of Akira Kurosawa. Princeton University Press, 1999.
Giddens, Gary. Kurosawa in Action. 22 July 2015 .
Nolletti, Arthur. “”Perspectives on Kurosawa”.” Film Quarterly Summer 1996: 52-54.
Prince, Stephen. “”Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema”.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 37.1 (2011): 229-233.
People: Akira Kurasawa. 19 July 2015 .
IMDB: Akira Kurosawa. 18 July 2015 .

Submit Your Film to the 29th Tokyo Int’l Film Festival #TIFF

Film submissions for the Competition section of the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is now ready on the festival website! (Submission period: April 15-July 8, 2016)

As one of the largest film festivals in Asia – TIFF Competition has been showing many outstanding films created by up-and-coming directors as well as premieres of works by prestigious filmmakers of the world.

Last year, we were honored to receive 1,409 films from 86 countries and regions. 16 excellent films were screened after the pre-selection and Nise – The Heart of Madness (Brazil) directed by Roberto Berliner won the Tokyo Grand Prix for the last year’s TIFF.

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 28th TIFF Award Winners ©2015 TIFF

A summary of the Regulations for the Competition 2016 is attached. TIFF looks forward to even a larger number of submissions from around the world.

The 29th TIFF will take place October 25-November 3, 2016 for 10 days in Tokyo, JAPAN.

For detailed information about film submission, please visit the TIFF official website: www.tiff-jp.net . (Source: Press release courtesy of TIFF Public Relations Group)