What makes Japanese cinema so special?


12 February 2016

It's almost time to travel back to Japan and soak up the best new and classic films brought to us by our friends at the Japan Foundation. Before our season of six films begins, we spoke to Junko Takekawa from the Japan Foundation to find out what makes Japanese cinema so special...

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I am Senior Arts Programme Officer at the Japan Foundation, Japan’s principal agency for the promotion of Japanese culture and cultural exchange between Japan and overseas countries. Our London office is one of around 20 affiliate overseas offices, and I am responsible for Japan related arts and culture projects that take place in the UK. My role varies from the operation of Japan Foundation’s grant giving programmes to planning, implementing and overseeing various cultural events that the Japan Foundation organise in the UK. When it comes to the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, I act as producer as well as programmer, working together with my very dedicated colleagues, Paul and Kate.

What do you think makes Japanese cinema so special?

"Who says anime is just for kids!"

It is a very interesting question but also a difficult one to answer. Historically, Japanese cinema has been represented by Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi who have had a huge influence on many filmmakers and audiences around the world. Arguably Japanese directors’ names are more known to the world than other non-western filmmakers. In anime, the impact Studio Ghibli had on the world is a real phenomenon. However it is not easy to sum up the reason behind the fame. Perhaps western filmmakers have felt stuck with the 'Hollywood style' and found Japanese aesthetics intriguing and Japanese ways of filmmaking liberating, as well as seeing a breakthrough in Japanese filmmaking. It is perhaps true that Japanese films may lack climaxes in the storyline compared to other Hollywood films, and the scale may be smaller, quite often rotating around one’s own small world. However, because of these characteristics, it makes us feel that Japanese cinema can be more realistic and it may be easier to engage with the characters within.

This year's selection is all about the highs and lows of life in Japanese cinema - can you talk us through the 'highs' from this year's line up of 6 films at DCA?

"This is something everybody should watch."

All six titles at DCA are very interesting in different ways. The programme is well balanced with the combination of two anime works, three contemporary dramas and one classic. You may not be familiar with Kihachi Okamoto, the director of The Elegant Life of Mr Everyman, but this 1960s light comedy on the life of a salaryman called Mr Everyman is remarkable. Okamoto applied interesting juxtapositions of anime sketch, stop motion as well as combined photo techniques. Imagine this wasn’t meant to be an avant-garde, experimental film but it was a commercial film in 1960s! I hope the audience at DCA will appreciate the intriguing visual application as well as what Japanese salaryman’s life was like in the 1960s, when Japan started to enjoy high economic growth after the war. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is one of my favourite works in the selection. It is about a useless 40-something man who suffers a 'mid-life crisis' and decides to be a manga artist without any training or preparation. It is really hilarious yet at the same time, this film challenges the stereotypical Japanese male figures who normally believe that they do not have a second chance in life in order to follow social pressures.

Anime seems to be getting more and more popular - for anyone new to the genre, could you share some of your favourite ever animes and why?

As a child, I was naturally brought up with anime, but more TV versions which may not be available outside Japan; I was a big fan of the series Lupin III (rupan sansei). As the titles suggest, it is about the adventures of a bunch of smart thieves, and they were so cool! Always set in unknown countries, it made me fly away from my domestic environment. Also Grave of the Fireflies. I cannot watch it without a hanky. I have been told and retold by my older generations how horrible the previous world war was and every time I watch it I am very grateful that I wasn’t born in such a hard time. Who says anime is just for kids! This is something everybody should watch. But my younger colleague Paul recommends the film Perfect Blue, by Satoshi Kon.

When you're not watching Japanese cinema, what films of all time would you watch?

"I always love to watch films as they are windows to a different world."

I must admit I may not have seen films as much as I should or would like to, given the constraints of my time. When I was younger though, I used to go to various cinemas in Tokyo in particular for those ones that screened non-Hollywood films (there were many back then). One of my favourite films then and still now is An Angel at My Table, directed by Jane Campion. I also watched lots of Chinese films in the late '80s and early '90s such as those which starred Gong-Li in a leading role. I always love to watch films as they are windows to a different world. Also it is very intriguing to get to understand the minds of others through cinema, those who I wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet. In modern age, people may think you don’t have to come to the cinema as there are other ways to see it, but you definitely have a different experience if you go to cinema. Laughing and crying together with others is something you cannot do at home. Also, all the films we choose are aimed to be appreciated on the big screen so please come out and escape from your own reality for a couple of hours!

We can't wait to escape into the worlds of these Japanese films. There's six to choose from and we can't wait to welcome you to the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.

Close comments
  • There are no comments so far…