Birthday and other moments in snowy Yubari International Film Festival

Last month, I suddenly made the decision to go to Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, firstly because I've never been to Yubari before, secondly because the festival coincided with my birthday, and I thought spending my birthday in the snow would be great. I will now post these to help myself remember.

And so I went. Due to my flight getting delayed, I ended up having to take the more convoluted route there. Usually there would be a direct bus to Yubari from Shin-Chitose Airport (close to Sapporo), but the bus only runs until 6pm. After that I had no choice but to take the train, which involved switching lines, and waiting in near empty stations. It was quite atmospheric.

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Being in a train station with these film festival posters made me confident that I was about to arrive at the place.


When I arrived at Yubari, I immediately headed to a screening venue (at Hotel Shuparo) to catch a few films in competition. The screening was a double bill of OCHIRU 堕ちる by Kazuya Murayama and はめられて THE ROAD TO LOVE by Shoichi Yokoyama.

OCHIRU is a 30-minute short film (and the only short film in competition, the rest were features, interesting programming) with a song that was stuck in my head for days. It tells the story of a middle-aged textile craftsman (they make kimono) and his gradual addiction towards an underground idol "Meme Tan". I'll just share the synopsis from the festival page.


Kiryu City is located in Gunma prefecture, where the textile industry was once popular. Kohei, who is a textile craftsman at a deserted weaving factory, encountered the local underground idol "Meme Tan" and he is gradually addicted to her charm. He regains the feelings he forgot ...
A concentrated 30 - minute love story of a middle - aged man and his agonizing romantic feelings for her progress with the song "wonderland" of the underground idol. What is waiting for the serious textile craftsman's "Gachi love" and where it "falls"!?


Lead actor Makoto Nakamura's 中村 まこと nearly wordless (I think he only had one line in the entire short) deadpan performance spoke volumes.

The following film, THE ROAD TO LOVE, is a fun 60-minute tale.

Haruo, who was working for a filmmaking company in Shinbashi and had romantic feelings for his colleague, Kaori, found a lot of adult videos in Kaori’s room. It was Kaori’s older sister Honami that was captured on videotapes. Haruo was supposed to search for Honami with Kaori and involved with absurd adventures.

So basically it's about a guy helping a girl look for her missing porn star sister. Hilarity and monster-sized penises ensued.

The next day, I had a better view of Yubari.

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Although in Yubari, I heard many people saying things like "despite how cold this place is, I am touched by the warmth of Yubari people", I was indeed touched by the warmth of the people in Yubari. During my second day, I was having problems trying to find food for myself. It was Saturday so all restaurants were closed, it was quite a frustrating experience. But this happened:


This happened a day before my birthday, in Yubari, at a makeshift cafe operated by festival volunteers, namely these few ladies in the photo, most of them having volunteered in the festival since its first edition in 1990. It was late afternoon, after the closing ceremony of the festival, and I was very hungry and desperate. Most restaurants I saw were closed (it was Sunday), the food stalls selling street food and buns in front of the guesthouse were gone right after the closing ceremony.

I was wandering around in the snow when I saw this café, headed in, and asked whether they had food. All they had left was potato soup, and coffee.

"I'll take it!"

And so I did. They excitedly told me I was their first ever Malaysian customer, and I was also the last customer of the year (they were already packing and closing). I told them it was the best damn soup and coffee I ever had and I felt happy. They too were happy and gave me some buns and chocolates. (That's even before I mentioned that my birthday's the following day!)

I thanked them sincerely and said that I was moved by the warmth of them despite the snow and the -6 temperature.
Two days have passed. Moments ago right before I got onto the bus that I'm on now (heading to the airport, leaving Hokkaido, returning briefly to Tokyo) I had the very last bun they gave me. It's an act of kindness that lingers. Farewell snow.

At night I saw the I Want To Be Loved by Ronan Girre, which was produced and starred some of the people I knew pretty well. Kiki Sugino, Yoko Mitsuya, Shuna Iijima etc etc. Watching a horror (relatively) film of young people camping at the beach and being murdered by the ghost of a schoolgirl was unexpectedly entertaining, especially when you are watching this in snowy Yubari.

Finally, the next day, after spending two nights in Yubari, I headed off to Sapporo. It was my birthday, and as I waited for the bus to Sapporo, I spent a while in a cafe editing Aqérat. It was a nice pleasant birthday.

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When I arrived at Sapporo, I met up with Eiji and Asae, my friends of the Sapporo International Short Film Festival, which I attended in 2012. They brought me to an awesome place for my birthday dinner, Hokkaido crab, ramen salad, fresh squid, I struggle now to remember what I've eaten, but they were all so good. And I will be forever grateful towards Eiji and Asae for giving me such a memorable birthday dinner.

Walking back to the hotel at night, it started snowing, in 33 years of my life, that was my first birthday in the snow.

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