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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Welcome Party For New Film Students

Two days ago (well, three, since it's already past midnight) I screened CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY to fellow film students of Waseda University. It was an all-day private screening for all film students doing their Masters to display their works.

Although it was the second film to be screened that day, I felt encouraged and flattered that it remained in people's minds until the night, when quite a few approached me to talk about it. (But then, being the only non-Japanese film in the line-up, it's impossible not to leave an impression, haha.) Many liked the Pasar Malam (night market) scenes, especially because of the vibrant colours (and I assume also because of its exoticism). And they also remarked on how different the Hainanese Chicken Rice is compared to their everyday Japanese chicken and rice dishes.

I often believe that filmmaking should transcend cultural barriers, that one should never stereotype films from a particular country. Chinese films aren't just about the martial arts epics. Japanese films aren't just about the horror films. Hollywood films aren't just about the big-budget soulless blockbusters. That's why I'm often against the idea of deliberately exoticizing your own culture just for the sake of encouraging these stereotypical views or conforming to what people like to see. It's a little insincere. And sometimes, I thought it's lazy filmmaking, it's like being pardoned for having sub-par technical or artistic values for the film 'merely because it's exotic'.

Different filmmakers should have different sensibilities based on their own cultural beliefs and upbringing, they technically should be able to make something culturally unique without trying too hard. It's the self-conscious need to flaunt one's culture and tradition that appalls me.

Nonetheless, having said that, I also disagree with the creative decision to distort reality so much for the sake of fitting genre requirements that the film ends up feeling like a pale imitation of other greater works from foreign countries. For example: When I see suit-wearing triad members prancing around in a (supposedly serious) local production, I tend to grimace because the portrayal of gangsters felt more like something referenced from a Tarantino film and (most likely) Hong Kong films. I just can't feel convinced at all.

I'm sure even Jack Neo had injected something 'Singaporean' into Fann Wong's character in AH LONG LIMITED instead of going for a shot-for-shot imitation of MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER. After all, why choose to be an inferior knock-off product anyway? Or, why compete against someone in doing what they're better at doing?

I was also curious to see what the Japanese film students in my uni are capable of doing. Their influences, their styles, the film vocabulary they use etc. So I remained in the auditorium from 11 in the morning to 7 at night (there's a lunch break and a few 10-minute breaks). I watced other works that ranged from 5 minutes to nearly an hour. Narrative shorts, non-narrative experimental stuff and a documentary. Some, unfortunately, had no English subtitles, and I found myself drifting in and out of sleep (my flu was also getting increasingly worse then) because they were dialogue-driven.

At an event like this, most were definitely determined to show their best stuff, and in terms of technical values, I have to say that everything I saw that day were at least above average. There's nothing that felt appallingly like a home video, nothing that made me go "Whaaaat? How can he be proud of this?"

It was an eclectic bunch. One put up three short trailers of a feature-length film made by a Spanish guy in Tokyo that she helped produced. Another did a making-of feature of a film that stars Eita. Then there's this directing duo who presented two of their works, which were both fantastical and effects-heavy, complete with snazzy animated interludes. I later heard that they work in an animation company, thus having the manpower to pull of what they did. There's also a half-hour fully animated short that looks just as good as any anime episode I've seen (on TV, not comparing this to the Ghibli stuff, obviously).

The last film shown was called Sketchbook. 53 minutes long. a tale of nostalgia and high school unrequited love. I spotted some heavy Shunji Iwai influences. Its director, Taka, gave out DVDs for free, and also surveys for us to fill (our thoughts on the storyline, themes etc) I asked him whether the film was autobiographical, he sheepishly said yes.

DVD cover of the short film, Sketchbook

The Sketchbook DVD sure looks good!

Anyway, I instantly made a decision that my thesis film here should have such cool DVD packaging as well.

After the screening ended, there was a welcome party where everyone could mingle and chat.

Welcome Party for New Film Students 1

Welcome Party for New Film Students 2

I was amazed by how quickly everyone cleaned things up after the party ended. In mere minutes, the long table was empty.

Welcome Party for New Film Students 3

Welcome Party for New Film Students 4

Nice events like this make me eager to keep my creative juices running again.