The Japanese Film Festival (JFF) returned to Australia in October, serving up new movies, stars and events that thrilled more than 25,000 fans and movie goers in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Fremantle. The festival also headed south to Auckland. Today, JFF is the largest of its kind outside of Japan. It was launched in 1997 by Japan Foundation Sydney, which was established by the Japanese government to promote cultural and intellectual exchange between Japan and Australia.
The 2014 edition opens in Melbourne with screenings from 27 November to 7 December at Hoyts Melbourne Central and ACMI. This year's line up of 58 films provide some of the best classics and contemporary Japanese cinema, from anime to internationally acclaimed drama, and everything in between. The highly anticipated annual film festival will also bring out film directors and artistes from Japan including award-winning director Kiyoshi Sasabe.
For readers unfamiliar with Sasabe-san's accomplishments in the Japanese film industry, the graduate of Meiji University and the Japan Institute of the Moving Image in Drama and Theatre Arts won Best Picture at the 28th Japan Academy Award for his first feature film 'Half a Confession' in 2004. 3 of his films have been screened at JFF in 2006, 2007 and 2011.
Lionel: Is this your first time in Melbourne? What are your impressions of Melbourne?
Sasabe: It's the first time for me, not only for Melbourne, Australia but actually the southern hemisphere. A guy who went to the same high school as me won a gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics. So until the Sydney Olympics came around, I had always associated Melbourne with the Olympics.
Lionel: You have two films screening in this year's JFF. Can you tell us more about them?
Sasabe: Through 'Three Sisters' (六月燈の三姉妹), I hope the audience will embrace the characters' warmth, stubbornness and clumsiness with relationships, and leave with the feeling that, for all their failings, people are pretty nice after all. 'Tokyo Refugees' (東京難民) highlights an issue that Japan is struggling with right now. The main character is young but could just have easily been someone middle-aged like me. On the surface, both movies appear to be complete opposites of each other but ultimately they're both about what a wonderful thing it is to be alive. It's just like if 'Three Sisters' was Melbourne and 'Tokyo Refugees' was Sydney. It doesn't really make that much difference because they're both part of Australia in the end.
Lionel: What are your thoughts on Japanese films like yours being screened at a Japanese film festival outside of Japan?
Sasabe: The only films I've ever made are ones where the main character is Japanese and the language is Japanese. I feel like the subtle nuances would probably get lost in translation, which is why I've never thought about entering my work in any international film festivals and awards. Every year at the same film festivals, the same directors' films are the only entries. I think that this is a shame for the Japanese film industry. It would be great if more Japanese films were shown internationally so that people can see how much more there is to Japanese film.
Lionel: What would you like Melburnians to take away from attending JFF and watching the Japanese films?
Sasabe: When I was a kid, we watched American and European films. We adored them and respected them, and those cultures gave us courage. In the same way, I hope that people in Melbourne will get a feeling for Japanese culture and for Japanese people themselves. I'm just happy if people enjoy themselves or get a feeling of hope from the films.
Kiyoshi Sasabe will present 2 films on 4 and 5 December at ACMI. You can catch his heart-warming family drama 'Three Sisters' and 'Tokyo Refugees', where he lived alone in a tiny one-room apartment in preparation for the making of this film. Visit the JFF website for more details on the schedule and tickets to both films and more.