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Japan rises to the occasion— has physical and virtual film festivals in the COVID-19 pandemic

Come to think of it, even if world film artists brace for the damaging effects of the new coronavirus they still persist and rise to the occasion by going on with the usual filmmaking and screening mostly creative and imaginative with corresponding health protocols.


Consider the cancellation of the prestigious 2020 Cannes International Film Festival because of the raging COVID-19 cases in France in May but still most of its films selected in the major derbies were lent and farmed out to other equally renowned film events like San Sebastian etc. The oldest international film fest Venice went on with its physical and virtual screenings and even shown some Cannes’ important and elite choices amid the threats of the deadly virus.


The 24th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan) in South Korea went on as scheduled in August with its mostly genre films curated and screened online and in cinemas but filmgoers and artists were imposed with safety precautions like wearing face masks and face shields, applying disinfectants and practicing social distancing. Likewise the 16th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival was pushed through last August in an online fashion of exclusive short films in competition.


Filipino directors Lore Reyes and Joel Lamangan rolled in and wrapped up their film projects with “Quarantine Gothika” which starred Michelle Gallaga, G Toengi and Solenn Heussaff and “Lockdown” which featured Alan Paule and Paolo Gumabao under the menacing novel coronavirus but all the artists involved in the production were on health measures.


To think that the Philippines is a Third World country it has to survive the tests of tough medical and health challenges but still it has withstood them by sustaining the local movie industry.


What more of Japan which is considered an advanced economy it has sophisticated health system notwithstanding subscription to health requirements to mitigate the spread of the virus.


It has recently opened the 2020 Tokyo International Film Festival with both live and virtual celebrations although foreign guest film artists who took to quarantine were limited. According to a report provided by Reuters, many screenings during the ten-day event which kicked off on the last day of October were sold out. The Japanese government recently allowed cinemas to operate again at full capacity.


Now, Japan through its egalitarian Japan Foundation Manila (JFM) has partnered with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and other arts related organizations to pursue a film activity that fosters strengthened cultural relationship with the Philippines.


The JFM has announced the reeling off the annual Japan Film Festival—mostly known before to a large chunk of Filipino audience as “EIGASAI”—a popular Japanese cultural event, the acronym stands for eiga which means film and sai festival.


According to the press briefs, “last March, here in the Philippines, JFM bid sayonara to the popular ‘EIGASAI’ brand and embrace ‘Japanese Film Festival’ with a fresh selection of fun and exciting this November.”


Billed as “Japanese Cinematic Experience Right At Your Home With JFF Plus: Online Festival,” it will run from November 20 to 29, 2020. It will explore the power of films to reflect and to inspire the Filipinos of the Japanese way of life.


During the online presscon, Liza Diño-Seguerra, Chairperson of the FDCP, was excited about the collaboration between her agency and the Japan Foundation in Manila. She said it gave the Philippines a special occasion to share cultural values with Japan. True enough, the Japan online festival continues its tradition of bringing quality Japanese films and sharing its diverse culture to the Filipino people through its digital edition.


Like many cyber film events, JFM is responsive to the current social climate and the global pandemic thus, the featured films will be streamed in social media instead of showing them in movie theaters.


Mr. Suzuki Ben, director of the Japan Foundation, Manila, feels excited to see the event's new format and happy to bring the JFF Plus: Online Festival to every Filipino home.


“In this time when we can’t go out and visit places, films allow us to take glimpses into new worlds, experience things, see places and gain new perspectives while staying safe in the confines of our homes. Online movies have become the trend due to pandemic. The Internet has also become a venue for instant exchange of information and culture,” said Mr. Suzuki.


Since 2016, Japan Foundation has re-branded its most-anticipated film event and began to call it simply Japanese Film Festival. It started in ASEAN countries and Australia, and expanded its reach to China, India and Russia.


With a central mission to promote Japanese film around the world, the Japanese Film Festival positions itself as an avenue to celebrate Japanese culture in the Philippines and increase people’s interest in Japanese films, as well as bridge the Asia-Pacific film market and the Japanese film industry for possible collaborations.


This year, the festival put the spotlight to 28 short and full-length feature films in various genres, which will be available for 24 hours in the newly launched JFF Plus, https://watch.jff.jpf.go.jp/ website run by the Japan Foundation to spread Japanese films overseas.


The JFF Plus: Online Festival line-up: “Our 30-Minute Sessions” (2020) by Hagiwara Kentaro; “Little Nights, Little Love” (2019) by Imaisumi Rikiya; “The Great Passage “(2013) by Ishii Yuya; “Project Dreams—How to Build Mazinger Z's Hangar” (2020) by Hanabusa Tsutomu; “Café Funiculi Funicula” (2018) by Tsukahara Ayuko; “0.5mm” (2014) by Ando Momoko; “Ecotherapy Getaway Holiday” (2014) and “A Story of Yonosuke” (2013) by Okita Shuichi; “Railways” (2010) by Nishikori Yoshinari; 10) “Lady Maiko” (2014) by Suo Masayuki; “Stolen Identity” (2018) by Nakata Hideo; 12) “Key of Life” (2012) by Uchida Kenji; “Dance with Me” by Yaguchi Shinobu.


Anime fans will also be treated to films like “Sumikkogurashi: Good to be in the Corner” (2019) by Mankyu; “Production I.G Animation: Tokyo Marble Chocolate” (2007) by Shiotani Naoyoshi; “Gon, The Little Fox” (2015); “Moon of a Sleepless Night” (2015); “Norman the Snowman—The  Northern Light” (2013) and “Norman the Snowman—On a Night of Shooting Stars” (2016) by Yashiro Takeshi and Production I.G Short Animations “Pigtails” (2015) by Itazu Yoshimi; “Kick-Heart” (2013) by Yuasa Masaaki; “Li'l Spider Girl” (2012) by Kaiya Toshihisa; “Drawer Hobs” (2011) by Kise Kazuchika and “The Girl from the Other Side” (2019) by Kubo Yutaro.


The doc films line-up: “Peace” (2010) by Soda Kazuhiro; “Tora-san in Goto” (2016) by Oura Masaru; “Tsukiji Wonderland” (2016) by Endo Naotaro and the 1952 classic “The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice” by OzuYasujiro.


There will also be interviews with film directors Imaizumi Rikuia, Okita Shuichi, Soda Kazuhiro, Yashiro Takeshi and Shiraishi Kazuya conducted by film critic Mark Schilling which can be watched in https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsPBI-8qZXhqIur-nTJjH7A/. There, they can watch the interviews of directors IMAIZUMI Rikiya, OKITA Shuichi, SODA Kazuhiro, YASHIRO Takeshi, and SHIRAISHI Kazuya, conducted by film critic Mark Schilling.

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