Sunday 22 April 2012

Shinsedai Cinema Festival 2012 - An Early Look

OK, I'll be honest up front - I'm very biased towards the Shinsedai Cinema Festival. My good friend Chris MaGee is one of the founders of the fest (along with Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye) and I've seen him work his butt off to make the festival not just successful, but relevant. As it prepares for its 4th year (they've announced a chunk of their films which I'll get to below), it's clear Chris and Jasper have grown the reputation of the event each time out and are beginning to attract more and more attention. Chris will be on this year's jury for the Nippon Connection in Frankfurt (the largest Japanese film festival outside of Japan) and filmmakers are starting to ask if they can bring their films to Shinsedai. The mandate for the festival is to expose young, independent filmmakers to a wider audience and the focus has remained on exactly that. Things branch out occasionally - e.g. a wonderful showing of the silent Mizoguchi film "The Water Magician" (complete with a live soundtrack) a few years ago; this year's double bill of Pink Films - but the core of the festival has been about giving the new generation a forum for their films outside of Japan.

Chris has also done me the honour of asking me to be part of the Board of the festival - a role that doesn't exactly tax me at the moment since Chris and Jasper are the drivers and brains of the fest. This year has proven extra challenging due to a location shift away from the lovely Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre to a downtown theatre (The Revue Cinema - one of Toronto's fine repertory theatres), but, as the kids today say, it's all good. With much easier access to the theatre via public transportation and much more engaged PR help, the festival is definitely going to create more of a stir in 2012.

Particularly with the lineup so far announced:

Ringing in Their Ears

Described as an irreverent rock comedy/drama, Yu Irie's "Ringing in Their Ears" kicks off this year's Shinsedai with a mix of fact and fiction. Real-life band Shinsei Kamattechan moves from indie stardom to the majors and the film follows the attempts of their manager to preserve their artistic integrity while also keeping tabs on some of their odd fanbase. Live concert footage is mixed in to what I can only guess will be a wonderfully energetic way to start the fest.

"Ringing in their Ears" screens on Thursday, July 12th at 7:00PM.

Zero Man vs. The Half Virgin

The scriptwriter of two of Takashi Miike's more well-known films ("Ichi the Killer" and "Gozu") and the director of "Tokyo Zombie" have come together to bring us the story of Zero Man - a cop with amnesia who realizes he has the strange gift of being able to see numbers on people's foreheads. The match of scriptwriter and director is a perfect one since they both happen to be the same person - Sakichi Sato. He's also one of the biggest character actors in Japan and plays triple duty by also taking a supporting role in this surreal tale of policeman Sakuragi and his odd ability that only manifests itself when he is aroused. He comes to believe that these numbers indicate the amount of sexual partners each person has had (he sports a zero on his own forehead), but what does the 0.5 mean on the mysterious young woman who attracts him?

"Zero Man vs. The Half Virgin" screens on Friday, July 13th at 9:00PM.

The Naked Summer

Each summer famed butoh dancer Akaji Maro invites professional and amateur dancers to participate in an intensive retreat to study the avant-garde art form. Maro and his students are followed in this documentary through one entire summer as they explore the movements and philosophy of butoh and work towards a final performance out in the countryside.

"The Naked Summer" screens on Saturday, July 14th at 1:30PM.

From the Great White North: Yubari Fanta Special

The Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival takes place every year in Hokkaido (Japan's northern island) and has become one of the most important events for indie Japanese filmmakers. In collaboration with Yubari, Shinsedai presents "From the Great White North: Yubari Fanta Special" - a set of three short films selected with the help of Yubari festival director Yasuhiro Togawa - which captures part of the diverse and slightly skewed spirit of Yubari Fanta. There's the high school girl who has developed her own brand of sexual martial arts in "Hole And Pole", a short documentary entitled "The Student Wrestler" which shows the benefits of social misfits getting out their frustrations through professional wrestling and "Mrs. Akko and Her Husband" which tells the tale of a couple that needs to pull themselves out of their apathetic relationship.

"From the Great White North: Yubari Fanta Special" screens on Saturday, July 14th at 4:30PM.

End Of The Night

After Tamegoro assassinates a married couple, he decides to take their infant son home and raise him. The boy, Akira, ends up being a sociopath which just happens to be the perfect attribute to follow in Tamegoro's footsteps as a hired killer. But what happens when you meet someone who has survived one of your old hits? Director Daisuke Miyazaki (who was the assistant director of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2008 film "Tokyo Sonata") gives us "a 1960's Nikkatsu action film filtered through the deadpan aesthetic of Takeshi Kitano". Sounds pretty good to me.

"End Of The Night" screens on Saturday, July 14th at 7:00PM.

Battle Girls & Bondage: A Pink Film Double Bill

Shinsedai Co-programmer and Co-Director Jasper Sharp is somewhat of an expert on Japanese pink films (in fact, he authored the book "Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema") and the festival has finally managed to bring a few examples of the genre to Toronto (the first ever theatrical screenings of the genre here). In cooperation with distributor Pink Eiga, "Battle Girls & Bondage: A Pink Film Double Bill" will feature two hour-long examples: "Sexy Battle Girls" and "New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave". It goes without saying that you must be 18 or older to attend this particular event. Though one of the more controversial selections the festival has made, it may also prove to be one of the more surprising.

"Battle Girls & Bondage: A Pink Film Double Bill" screens on Saturday, July 14th at 9:30PM.


David Lynch and Takashi Miike's names are mentioned as comparison points in Masafumi Yamada's story of a man running from the yakuza who ends up hiding out in a unmapped portion of Kyoto. He finds a job at a construction site and encounters a raft of characters while the tale drifts from comic to haunting.

Tentsuki will screens on Sunday, July 15th at 8:00PM.

You can check out trailers for all these films at the Shinsedai YouTube channel. The final round of films will be announced sometime next month, and tickets and passes for the festival go on sale June 21st. For more information on the fest be sure to visit the Shinsedai Cinema Festival website.

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