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Friday, July 25, 2008


[UPDATED: 26TH OF JULY, 2008] Jason Gray has posted about the PIA Film Festival 2008 Winners.

I just came back from the PIA Film Fest in Shibuya again (read about my thoughts on SEMIGAO and TENGU LEAF, two films I saw at the fest on Saturday). I couldn't catch the rest of the films in competition, but managed to see SEISMIC GIRL by Tatenai Kenta and GOODBYE, GEORGE ADAMSKI by Kodama Kazuto, the two films from the NEW DIRECTIONS IN JAPANESE CINEMA project. They are films produced under the Agency for Cultural Affairs' 35mm short film production support projects. Basically, the project is to allow filmmakers (previous finalists of the film fest) to experience true 35mm filmmaking (all films in competition at the festival, being self-produced, are of course shot digitally).

Both short films (SEISMIC GIRL's running time is 30 minutes, GOODBYE, GEORGE ADAMSKI is 27) are, in my opinion, pretty good. They both veer towards the quirkier, deadpan comedic side, and share some similar themes (both are essentially love-hate buddy films). Although one of my recent complaints about Japanese contemporary cinema had been the filmmakers' lack of awareness in mise-en-scene, the way a scene is staged, the way a shot is composed, tend to betray their influences from doramas instead of genuinely feeling totally cinematic. I'm impressed to see the filmmakers of both films tend to let the scenes play out slowly (as in going for longer takes, not to be mistaken for making their films slow-paced) at times, it maximizes the humour more.

Seismic Girl

SEISMIC GIRL takes place in a rural town in the Tohoku district of Japan, where earthquakes rarely occur. Satoshi (Yamanaka So), a researcher at the earthquake laboratory located in the area, has decided to move to the United States to do some constructive research when his ex-girlfriend, the loud and flamboyant Yuri (Eguchi Noriko), told him that she has a friend working there. His current girlfriend, the quiet and nerdy Mitsuko (Kawai Aoba), isn't too happy about it. Knowing that this is another one of Yuri's dastardly plans to get together with Satoshi again.

Mitsuko learns about the legend of the 'catfish rock' that is supposed to contain the earthquakes in the region, and begins to unearth it so that Satoshi won't leave her. Things eventually escalate into more insanity when Mitsuko and Yuri get into an all-out catfight towards the end for the man they love. It's pretty absurdist and wacky towards the end, but it's a feel-good film that left me smiling a little.


In GOODBYE, GEORGE ADAMSKI, Haruo (Emoto Tasuku, pretty good here) meets an old elementary school friend, Sadayuki (Onoue Hiroyuki) in a bus by chance. As a child, Sadayuki had always been crazy about UFO and playing pranks, but one day when Haruo and Sadayuki (accompanied by Sadayuki's mother) went to the mountains to find UFO, they fell into a trap in the ground that killed Sadayuki's mother. Since then, Sadayuki believed feverishly that his mother was abducted by aliens and he had a microchip embedded in his head. Haruo didn't dare to tell him about the truth, and they both drifted apart since then.

However, while in the bus, Sadayuki asks Haruo to accompany him in his quest to find Nagasawa, a UFO researcher, so that he can get the chip removed from his head. Haruo reluctantly accompanies his rather mentally imbalanced friend on his mission. It's a little like Terry Gilliam's THE FISHER KING, with Haruo being Jeff Bridges' character and Sadayuki being Robin Williams'. Although Haruo seems like the normal one of the two at first, the quest gradually allows him, who has been leading an idle life doing nothing in particular, to learn more about himself as well.

(In case you were wondering who George Adamski was, you can read about his wiki entry here. Anyway, Adamski was known among ufologists for his outlandish claims about photographing alien ships, meeting 'Space Brothers' and flying around with them etc.)

It's hard for me to compare both films. Initially, I thought I preferred the latter. But thinking carefully again, I find myself at a loss. SEISMIC GIRL is a little more restrained with its wry comedy, GOODBYE, GEORGE ADAMSKI goes through a wider spectrum of emotions, which, thankfully, the filmmaker was able to handle well. (otherwise the film could've suffered from schizophrenia too) Narratively, SEISMIC GIRL is more original and unpredictable. GOODBYE, GEORGE ADAMSKI is more about the journey than the destination (but the ending is really evocative though... maybe because it's the kind of thing I myself like to do).

Once again, I'll be interested to see other people's opinions about the films.

After each film, there's a lengthy Q & A session (lengthier than the ones with the directors in competition anyway) between the film director and festival director Araki Keiko. I'm sure if I have understood their conversation more, I could've written more in this entry. I'm still a little miffed that I couldn't see the rest of the competition flicks. Seeing the four films so far in the festival is making me feel more and more desperate about doing a new film. My YUKI project is still left hanging. I hope to hear some good news from Maiko the producer once she finishes her exams. :(