The Japanese Film Festival comes to Kathmandu and PokharaTakaki and Akari are both introverted young children, both preferring to stay indoors in the library than outside in the playground. They become fast friends in primary school and soon realise that their relationship has evolved into something more than friendship.
Takaki and Akari are both introverted young children, both preferring to stay indoors in the library than outside in the playground. They become fast friends in primary school and soon realise that their relationship has evolved into something more than friendship. After graduating from primary school, Akari moves to a new city and the two begin writing letters to one another, but eventually start to drift apart. When Takaki learns that he too will be moving to a new city, Kagashima, on the other side of the country, he decides to go see Akari one final time. Despite a severe snowstorm that delays his train, Takaki and Akari finally meet and share their first kiss. They fall asleep in an abandoned shed and the next morning, Takaki leaves, comfortable in the memory of his first kiss with the girl he has come to love.
Thus ends the first episode of Makati Shinkai’s 5 Centimetres per Second. This anime film, divided into three episodes, centres around Takaki, as he grows from a young boy into a man, obsessed with the memory of his first love, Akari. Melancholy and slow, the film won numerous awards when it was first released. The beautiful animation led many to call Shinkai the next Miyazaki, after the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, director of films like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Shinkai’s 5 Centimetres per Second, a seminal film in the evolution of Japanese animation, is part of the Japanese Film Festival, which will take place later this month in Kathmandu and Pokhara. The Japanese Embassy in Kathmandu in partnership with the Japan Foundation, is showcasing a collection of nine films that cut across genres, from the family-friendly Ninja Kids and the futuristic Time of Eve to the melancholy 5 Centimetres per Second and the dance anime Pop in Q. The films showcased draw on the rich history of Japanese cinema, where somber samurai dramas play alongside vibrant and bubbly anime films.
While the film festival is showcasing more recent work from a cross-section of directors that Nepali audiences might not be familiar with, it can serve as an introduction to Japanese cinema, whose films win plaudits across the world. The groundbreaking work of Akira Kurosawa, considered by many to be the greatest filmmaker of all time, paved the way for Japanese film’s entry into the global imagination. With celebrated films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Kagemusha, Kurosawa’s filmmaking techniques and narrative flair went on to influence a generation of filmmakers, from Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorcese to Satyajit Ray and Zhang Yimou.
While Kurosawa might be the most well-known of Japan’s auteurs, art-house favourites Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi were celebrated by artistically-inclined filmmakers. Ozu, who often competes with Kurosawa for the greatest director tag, is still celebrated for his restrained, slow-paced films that were shot with almost no camera movement. Ozu’s influence can be seen in the work of contemporary directors as diverse as Hungarian Bela Tarr to Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
In contemporary times, the Japanese cinema industry might be more well-known for its animation, which has charted a path very different from the Hollywood powerhouses that are Disney and Pixar. Japanese animation is as diverse as its film, with the most popular production house being Studio Ghibli, helmed by Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away even won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Academy Awards and the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. The film is consistently ranked among the best films of the 21st century.
Alongside Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Miyazaki’s partner at Studio Ghibli, has been celebrated for his film, Grave of the Fireflies, which tells the harrowing story of two young siblings struggling to survive the tail end of the Second World War. This animated feature is often listed among the greatest war films of all time.
Given this long and storied history, it is fitting that the Japanese film festival will be screening a number of animated work alongside live-action films. While 5 Centimetres per Second might be the highlight of the festival’s animated offerings, Time of Eve and Pop in Q are both popular works in Japan that warrant a viewing.
Among the festival’s most interesting of offerings is Ninja Kids, a family-friendly children’s film by acclaimed director Takashi Miike, who is known more for over-the-top violence in his films. His films—Audition and Ichi the Killer have earned him a reputation for violence, gore and sexual perversion, even though Miike has directed more than a hundred films in varying genres. From children’s films like Ninja Kids to horror films like One Missed Call, Miike is a troubadour, leaping from one genre to another. No doubt, Ninja Kids will make for an entertaining and interesting watch.
Another film that Nepali audiences should look out for is Survival Family, a film that explores the effects of technology on society and relationships. Directed by Shinobu Yaguchi, the film follows a family’s attempts at surviving a global electricity failure. Japanese films have long explored the proliferation of technology in society, especially the dire repercussions it can have on identity, family and relationships—one notable example being Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 film, Pulse.
The films to be showcased at the Japanese Film Festival are noticeably lighter and more family-friendly, since they are intended to appeal to a wide Nepali audience. But no doubt, the films make for a perfect introduction to the rich world of Japanese cinema.
The Japanese Film Festival will take place in Pokhara from March 15-16 at the Pokhara Chamber of Commerce and Industries in Gaira Patan; and in Kathmandu from March 22-23 at the Tribhuvan Army Officers’ Club in Tundikhel, and March 29-30 at the Japanese Embassy in Panipokhari. Subtitles will be in English and entry is free.