Monday, December 6, 2010

The Wonders Of Anime Matsuri - Kieran

A special event took place at the Sydney leg of the 14th Japanese Film Festival. For the first time we held a special "Anime Matsuri". A hallmark of Japanese Cinema and Television, Anime has been around in some form since the early 1900's and we are delighted to have put on this mini 7 hour marathon of this artistic expression.

The event was co-hosted by SMASH! Sydney Anime and Manga Show and was such a mammoth event that it took place in 2 parts. Part 1 featured the short music video "Precious" and the feature length version of the futuristic sci-fi piece "Time of Eve". Part 2 consisted of a special Naoyoshi Shiotani double feature with the romance tale "Tokyo Marble Chocolate" and the new 3D CGI Production I.G piece "Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror".

We decided to ask SMASH! about the wonders of anime and their thoughts about this matsuri (Matsuri is Japanese for festival). Read on to hear the thoughts of the event runner Alexia Zahra-Newman!

"JFF: How did SMASH! come about?
SMASH!: SMASH! was founded in 2007 by a Sydney artist and anime fan Katie Huang. She wanted to make an event for fans, artists and creators that could be both affordable and entertaining. Our first meetings were in Hyde Park and I don’t think anyone ever imagined that the convention would come as far as it has since. 

JFF: Tell us a bit about SMASH!
SMASH!: We have about 40 staff, all working voluntarily in whatever spare time they have around full time employment or study. Our key objectives are to provide an event dedicated to Japanese animation, art and culture that is affordable, educational and entertaining.  In particular we want to ensure that local artists have an opportunity to not only learn from professionals and develop their skills, but also to sell their works to the public. We run a large number of events over the course of a day including cosplay, karaoke, video game tournaments, Gundam model making workshops, academic and craft panels, trivia as well as a range of activities and games.

JFF: What does the future hold for SMASH?
SMASH!: Since our first year we’ve continued to grow bigger and better and we hope to continue that. Already we’ve confirmed a brand new venue at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre and we hope that very shortly we can announce some very exciting events and talents that will feature at the show. We’re a volunteer organisation and as such we’re always looking for people with new ideas and a willingness to help out. We’ll have information on our website soon for those interested in volunteering, but until then anyone can contact our staff at

JFF: Why do people get so involved in Anime, cosplay etc?
SMASH!: People are drawn to anime for a variety of reasons. The breadth of anime is one of those reasons. Because it is animated, it is restricted only by the imagination of its creators. There is anime for fans of sports, cars, martial arts, magical girls, robots, spaceships, high school romance and politics with settings that range from the extraordinary to the mundane.

Narrative appeals to yet others. While it is more common in the West than it once was, it is still frequently the case that Western televised drama will continue for years, often rotating characters, with no larger fixed story other than the plot of the episode of that week. While such self-contained stories have their appeal, anime caters to the fan looking for a narrative with a longer, but nevertheless, defined arc. Finally, it has blue hair. And shirts made entirely out of buckles. And frogs that are vampires. Well, maybe not the last bit. But that's coming next year for sure.

JFF: How do you intend to get more people interested in manga/anime?
SMASH!: We believe that anime has something for everyone and the biggest barrier is merely people's preconceptions. In Australia, we grow up with a very rigid view of what the cartoon is useful for - humour. Although television shows such as South Park and The Simpsons have pushed the age groups which are permitted to enjoy animation it is still, at heart, about laughter.

This is why events such as the JFF are important. They provide an opportunity for people to realise that animation can be used to explore themes which are serious, sad, uplifting and challenging. People enjoy good storytelling and once the medium is no longer seen as restrictive to what storytelling can take place, we believe people will reach for an anime DVD as easily as they reach out for the next episode of Mad Men.

JFF: Are you excited to be involved with JFF?
SMASH!: Definitely! We think that anything that promotes anime and Japan to audiences in Sydney is a fantastic thing and we’re more than happy to work with the Japan Foundation in producing the Anime Matsuri. We hope that the Festival will reach a whole new bunch of people who haven’t yet discovered anime and Japanese culture.

JFF: What sort of special events were at the Anime Matsuri?
SMASH!: We want to show attendees that might not know much about SMASH! and other Anime conventions what the feeling is to be at one of these conventions. So we have put together a mini one for this event, including a Cosplay runway. This will be where members of the audience can come down from their seats to the front of the cinema and show everyone their great cosplay, to win great prizes.

JFF: Are you excited for the future?
SMASH!: Yes, the screenings were great. I know a few people had seen these films through their own means but this is the first time for many and personally we think they are a great introduction to anime for anyone new to the culture. We would love to work with the Japan foundation in the future and grow Sydney’s awareness and love for Japanese, Anime and popular culture."

The event was a great success, with cosplay, prizes and guests galore. We had over 1,000 people attend, from young children to anime veterans. Special thanks to Alexia for that interview and to the whole SMASH! team for the wonderful event.
We hope to work with you guys in the future too!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

(Sword Of Desperation) A Samurai Saga - Richard

When you think of Japanese film, one of the 2 immediate things that come to mind is the genre of the Samurai Film (the other being Anime). It is no surprise then that one of the most popular sesisons of JFF14 has been the Samurai piece "Sword of Desperation". Richard Gray from DVD Bits takes a look at why this genre fascinates us all.

"The history of Japanese cinema has long been defined into a number of key genres that reflect the history of Japan itself. Arguably the most famous of these is the jidai-geki, or period dramas, and consist of films largely set in the Edo Period of Japan (1603 – 1868), with samurai cinema such as Rashomon, Yojimbo and Ran being an obvious sub-genre of this. Along with gendai-geki (contemporary dramas) and shomin-geki (realist films such as the works of Yasujiro Ozu). This latest film from director Hideyuki Hirayama manages to draw on several layers of this amazing tradition.

As the film opens, swordsman Kanemi Sanzaemon (Etsushi Toyokawa, 20th Century Boys) stabs and kills the Lady Renko (Megumi Seki), mistress to the Lord Tabu Ukyou (Jun Murakami, All to the Sea). This crime is normally punishable by beheading, yet Sanzaemon is spared. Instead, he is imprisoned in isolation for a year, during which time we learn of the corruption of Renko, and the growing rift that is forming between the Lord and his cousin Hayatonosho Obiya (Koji Kikkawa). When Sanzaemon is released and promoted to chief attendant, things really start to get complicated.

Many commentators have made a big deal of the similarities between this and the films of Yasujiro Ozu (Late Spring). At first glance, I wondered where this comparison could have come from. This is, after all, a film about a brutal murder and an elaborate plot of political intrigue. On closer inspection, the film is only about those things on the surface, and is principally concerned with the spaces in between. There are long scenes where ostensibly nothing happens, but there is always a brooding tension just boiling underneath the surface.

Toyokawa epitomises this understated character type, having recently come off the slightly more over-the-top version of the honourable samurai in 20th Century Boys as the “Shogun”. When the tension finally breaks, it is explosive. The film concludes, as it began, with a violent act. However, the final moments of the film are so blood-soaked it is almost as if the very emotional core of the film itself has finally been let loose and embodied in a very skilled and slightly miffed samurai.

Possibly the pinnacle of all samurai storytelling, simply because it draws on all of the influences of Japanese cinema. Sword of Desperation is simultaneously an impeccable samurai/period film and a quiet shomin-geki film, with the castle serving as a de facto for the family home that characterised Ozu’s films. Even nature is used as an oppressive force, heightening the tension inherent to the situation.

Easily one of my Top 5 films from the 14th Japanese Film Festival, Sword of Desperation is a slow-burning drama-cum-samurai film that should be seen as a classic piece of cinema for generations to come." by Richard Gray, DVD Bits.

Richard lists the film as one of his top 5 films of JFF14. What were yours? Did you have a top 3? top 7? or did just 1 film stick out for you as being top of the bunch? Send us an email at or post a commment below as we are interested in finding out what films captivated our audiences. Look forward to hearing everyones responses!

(Box!) A Tale Of Two Friends - Richard

Hello JFFers! The festival has just a few days remaining in Melbourne before moving on down to Hobart, so don't miss out on the chance to see some great films! Today we take a look at the very popular "Box!", from the director of "Detroit Metal City". We are running a special Buy 1 Get 1 Free deal for "Box!", so we hope you take advantage of it! And don't forget to send in your festival reports for the chance to be featured on the blog!

"Sport films tend to follow a fairly standard pattern, and are always good for a bit heart-string pulling in the audience. We’ve already had one sports film this year at the Japanese Film Festival in Feel the Wind, two if you count the competition performance calligraphy of Shodo Girls, both of which featured the underdog battling against the bigger competitors for the ultimate prize. Boxing films have always been at the heart of this genre, possibly due to the protagonist having to literally fight his or her way to the top. Going back to at least 1976′s Rocky and the operatic heights of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull,  it seems that strapping on the gloves and stepping into the ring is Oscar gold, with the more recent Million Dollar Baby earning four Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Box! distinguishable from Richard E. Kelly’s similarly titled The Box by the handy ‘!’ at the end of the title, follows this grand tradition with the tale of two friends. When high-school student Yuki (Kengo Kora, Solanin) is rescued from some street toughs on a train by Kabu (Hayato Ichihara, Rookies), they realise that they were childhood friends prior to Yuki moving away. Reunited, Kabu convinces Yuki to join the high school boxing club, and eventually compete in regional tournaments. The most feared boxer in their weight division is Inamura (professional boxer Suwa Masashi), and it is only a matter of time before one (or both) of them must face him.

Box! follows a fairly predictable path, with a fairly set path towards the final confrontation between newcomer Yuki and his foe Inamura. By the time they meet, it isn’t so much about winning for Rocky…erm… Yuki, it is about going the distance. So the path they follow is a predictable one, but the real appeal of any sports film are the characters and their ability to illicit emotion from the audience.

Kengo Kora plays completely against his terrific drifter role in Solanin, where he spent most of his energy simply existing. Here he is single-mindedly driven, although is character is similarly singular in his motivations. This isn’t really surprising when your primary foe is non-actor Masashi, whose own performance is restricted to a series of snarls and menacing (and occasionally homoerotic) stares in the direction of our two leads. Only Ichihara, as the all-brawns-no-brains Kabu, is given a bit of depth to play with, especially during his own downslide and the unresolved relationship with the terminally ill Satoko (Mitsuki Tanimura, Summer Wars).

One can be fairly certain of what they are getting when they step into the ring with Box! While this will undoubtedly garner some interest from fans of Toshio Lee and his previous cult hit Detroit Metal City, it merely remains another crowd-pleasing trip of one man going the distance." - Richard Gray, DVD Bits.

Cheers to Richard for the review. You can see his recap on the entire Sydney JFF14 on The Reel Bits, including what his favourite films of the festival where! He managed to catch 18 of the 22 films at the festival, so their is a great range of reviews and thoughts on the festival line-up.

See you at the festival!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

(Hanamizuki) Timeless Love - Samson

It was the fastest selling session at JFF14. It sold out in a matter of days and was in high demand. Whether you managed to catch it or not, you surely heard the fuss about "Hanamizuki (Flowering Dogwood)". Did it live up to the hype? Samson Kwok takes a look at the teen romance, which was intruiingly based on a famous love song in Japan. Read on to see what you missed out on!

"Hanamizuki is a personal favourite of mine amongst all the films that I have seen at this year's Japanese Film Festival. It is perhaps not as accomplished in various aspects as a few of the others, but it has managed to touch me and tug at my heartstrings in a way that no other films have done.

Based on the lyrics of a moving love song by Yo Hitoto (played in full at the end of the film), this story about 2 young lovers is set in Hokkaido. Sae is a college girl who falls in a love with Kohei, a handsome young fisherman. The relationship is strong until Sae decides to move to Tokyo to fulfil her dreams. There, she meets Kitami, a talented photographer who happens to share her dreams...

Yui Aragaki gives a wonderful performance as the main character, though at times her stunning good looks actually serve as a distraction. The male lead, Toma Ikuta, is charming as the fisherman whom Sae loves. He starts off boyish but as the story goes on, he becomes a mature young man. There is much chemistry between Aragaki and Ikuta, which is key to the success of the film. The other main character is Junichi Kitami, the photographer Sae meets in Tokyo, played by Osamu Mukai who gives a likeable performance.

Hanamizuki begins with the line "May your love bloom for a hundred years." For the 2 hours that follow, viewers get to go on a journey with the film's 2 main characters, as their relationship develops and matures, turning from pure innocent love to deep undying love. It is quite an emotional journey, consisting of both happiness and bitterness, but bittersweet never feels as good as this.

Director Nobuhiro Doi certainly knows how to draw emotions from the audience. Many scenes are memorable and incredibly touching. My favourites are all ones that involve Sae yelling across a long distance to reach the boat Kohei is on. The dialogues are well-written. One line that impresses me the most is said by Sae's mother: 'Experience love and pursue it without regret'. And that, is exactly what Sae and Kohei did.

Hanamizuki is a beautiful and romantic film. It comes as no surprise that it became a box office hit upon its release in Japan earlier this year. If you have dreamed of love, found love, or been waiting for love, I would wholeheartedly recommend this film to you. I sadly suspect it will not receive a wide release in Australia, and so may I suggest for those of you who live in Sydney (Hanamizuki will only be screening in the Sydney leg of the Japanese Film Festival) to grab this opportunity to see it, hopefully with someone you love." by Samson Kwok

Thanks to Samson for that recap for all of us that missed it. This is a notice, remember to book early for JFF15 as films are going to be selling like Wasabi Hotcakes!!!

See you all in Melbourne!