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Sunday, April 09, 2017

To the writer of the "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films " article

It is 3:30 am in the morning. I was trying to write on this journal an entry about a new project of mine called YASMIN-SAN, which is either a documentary or a film essay. I thought I had to write about it because I was about to start recording my own voiceovers for the film. I'm generally camera-shy and self-conscious (I don't appear in my own films), the idea of recording MY OWN VOICE for a film project left me a little uncomfortable. But YASMIN-SAN is going to be screened in public two weeks from now, so I don't have much of a choice!

9 years ago, I attempted a film essay called FLEETING IMAGES. It happened a few weeks after I moved to Tokyo. Adjusting to a new life in a new country, I clung on to my lifelong love: cinema and literature. I brought many DVDs with me to watch, one of them happened to be Chris Marker's SANS SOLEIL. After I watched it in one lovely Spring afternoon, I realized my life was changed, my senses realigned, and it opened up to me the infinite possibilities of cinema. So I made FLEETING IMAGES, I had a lot of beautiful and bittersweet memories of this project. For the award I won, the unexpected appreciation it received, for the people I met, for the person I met after its very first public screening.

I tried Googling FLEETING IMAGES as I was writing that post (trying to find its Youtube embed code, which I added above this paragraph), and stumbled upon a Japanese article in the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia website, which I believed was written last June as part of the Southeast Asia Program & Symposium.

In the article "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films", the author wrote about his (her?) first encounter with FLEETING IMAGES, which was essentially his introduction to Malaysian cinema.

After reading it, I decided to put my initial post aside and write this instead. I wanted to thank the writer, but I couldn't find a place to leave my comments. I wasn't too sure whom the author was either, but after reading it I felt nothing but gratitude.

I will put the entire article here (which is translated in English), along with its original Japanese text.

Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films

It has already been seven years since I first met the guy. To put it more accurately, maybe I should say, when I first met the guy’s short film—.

A woman’s monologue was accompanied by various clips that began in Japan, on to Malaysia, India, and so on. If these unrelated clips that filled the screen happened to be still pictures instead of videos, maybe it would have reminded me of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Emotions that words can’t explain, bustling intentions that can’t be replaced with languages, aspirations that continue pleading to be expressed… These things came fluttering down from the screen, and I found myself trying to capture each and every one of them with both of my hands. But before I knew it, they slipped past me and continued to flow toward their next travel destination, as if there’s a meaning to continue flowing for eternity and to never reach the destination for all eternity.

The guy’s film called Fleeting Images was exactly like that.The creator was a Malaysian man named Edmund Yeo. My first impression was, “So this is the guy…”

Edmund’s film Fleeting Images should be called “Short-lived Images”. The images that flowed and disappeared every second and every instant with the flow of time, was similar to that instantaneous flicker of our lives: elusive, haphazard, and the destination unknown. A letter filled with an ephemeral emotion is handed to us without telling us who it’s addressed to, and the voice that reads the letter becomes a distant echo, resists the flow of time, and continues to resonate in our ears.

Who is it addressed to? Without knowing, the woman’s monologue becomes grains of words, crystalizes through the flowing time, and awakens a piece of our memory as it turns and runs away.
While a couple of letters turn into the echo of a monologue and disappear between time and space, we quietly wait for the next page to be turned…You can say that seeing his films is like reading through a book. It’s a repetition of experiences. What’s important is not to give a fixed meaning to it. Rather than that, we must embrace the endless sway of transience as it is. It’s to continue this behavior in order to keep reliving the time.So this is the guy who depicted all that…

The guy in front of me didn’t look like a movie youth or like a literary youth at all. An innocent smile filled his dark-colored face and “friendly” and “lovable” were the adjectives that fit him perfectly.

Until then, I hadn’t had the opportunity to come face to face with a Malaysian person, so he was my first Malaysian friend. From his Chinese name, I kind of predicted he’d be a Chinese Malaysian, but his looks greatly defied my shallow speculation and I found myself sitting up straight. It was out of respect for the creator. This film’s unexpected surprise of beginning in Malaysia and going through Japan, will continue to touch my heart.

This is what triggered me to begin thinking about Malaysian films—.In Japan, Yasmin Ahmad is a prominent figure, but how many of us know the background, the present, and the future of Malaysian films……? Edmund mentioned this in an interview once— “The country of Malaysia consists of multiple ethnic groups and cultures. We all have our distinct ways of living. So in my case, since I’m Malaysian Chinese, the characters of my films speak Mandarin, but I think the flow of time and methods of visual expressions we use in our filmmaking as well as the emotions that exist are totally different from what you see in Taiwanese films, Hong Kong films, and Chinese films. (“OUTSIDE IN TOKYO” )

The multiethnic country, Malaysia. Although it mainly consists of Chinese people, just like the distinct development of its cuisine, films have also taken shape by absorbing a variety of sensibilities and tastes. That’s why I don’t feel that Edmund’s films are different from ours.

From Japan to Malaysia, and on to India, the fleeting fragments of images continue on as if they’re passing through a corridor, coupled with the monologue that tickles our ears as they pass by, taking us back to a nostalgic time and place that we possibly knew in the past. It’s the present but no longer the present. It was once a time in the past, but not anymore. It’s like a mixture of a faint memory and a premonition…… Each element is huddled together but then untangled once again…….

From Japan to Malaysia and on to India, transcending space and time, memories are linked together and images shimmer as they connect with one another. It’s something that’s created by passing through Malaysia, a topos where various times and cultures wander back and forth. That is the very reason why a certain richness is fostered and people who are no different from all of us begin living lives that are no different from ours… inside the film of Edmund Yeo.

Now let’s talk about Malaysian films… Well, I’m not actually well-versed and knowledgeable about Malaysian films. I only have a general knowledge. But my encounter with Edmund Yeo no doubt changed that a little bit.Yasmin Ahmad, a leading figure in the Malaysian film industry, passed away (summer of 2009) right after my encounter with Edmund, and special screenings to commemorate her took place in various locations. Let me introduce an Asahi Shimbun article from back then.

“Malaysia’s female film director Yasmin Ahmad, who has led the new trend of Southeast Asian films, passed away last month on the 25th from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 51. Her films that captured the realities of a multiethnic nation with humor and satire were screened in various film festivals in Japan and gained popularity. Her passing came just before the kickoff of her new film which included shooting in Japan. After graduating from a university in England, she became a TV commercial director for a Malaysian advertisement company. Her commercials with messages toward cross-cultural understanding and supporting the vulnerable, received high acclaim. She made her film debut with the feature film Rabun in 2003. The autobiographical film series featuring a young girl Orked, received international attention. Ahmad committed herself to supporting young directors in Malaysia and Singapore. She called herself “The storyteller”. She valued entertainment and creating content that was easy-to-understand for all. On the other hand, she cut through Malaysia’s intercultural conflicts and discrimination structure where ethnic groups such as Malay, Chinese, and Indian coexisted, and the screenings of her films often got axed. Her second film Sepet (2004) about the first romance between a Malaysian girl and a Chinese boy, received the Best Asian Film Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF). In a blog post prior to her passing, she mentioned that receiving recognition at TIFF etc. motivated her to keep pursuing her activities. Her maternal grandmother is Japanese. She mentioned that Otoko-wa-tsurai-yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) was her favorite film. Her newest film Wasurenagusa was going to be based on her grandmother in which she explores her roots. The filming was scheduled to take place in October in locations such as Ishikawa Prefecture.” (Asahi Shimbun September 9th 2009. ‘The greatest director of Malaysia’s film industry, Yasmin Ahmad, passes away.’

The death of Ahmad, who led the new wave of Malaysia, triggered people to reaffirm the frameworks of Malaysian films. I say this because I feel that new talents and gems in the filming industry are cutting their developmental stages short and moving into action.

Film festivals such as the Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo FILMEX have been introducing such Malaysian films both consecutively and at one-time screenings. As a result, young Malaysian talents such as Pete Teo (multi-talented music producer, film producer, and actor), James Lee (prominent figure in the Malaysian independent film industry), Lisa Surihani (leading actress in today’s Malaysian film industry), gradually became known (though it may be just among some).

Then in 2013 and 2015, special screenings such as “Cine Malaysia 2013 – Festival of Malaysian Film, Tokyo” and “Malaysian Film Week” took place to introduce the attractiveness of Malaysian films. There’s no doubt that this is an era in which new trends of Malaysian films exist and that there’s a ripple that hints something is about to emerge from there.

Now let’s return to talking about Edmund Yeo.Since encountering his film Fleeting Images, I’ve intentionally began pursuing his films. It’s because he belonged to Kohei Ando’s seminar at Waseda University and was using that as a backbone to create films one after another.

Kingyo (2009, submitted to the Venice Film Festival), Inhalation, Exhalation (both in 2010), Last Fragments of Winter (2012)… Each and every one of Edmund’s films adopts a slightly different style and topic. His inspirations include directors such as Tarkovsky, Edward Yang, Hirokazu Koreeda, but above that, Mr. Kohei Ando told me that Edmund loves Yasunari Kawabata. As if to prove that, Kingyo breaks free from locations and time, and fosters various cultures and multiple styles which are the backbone of Edmund’s films and includes new attractive elements of Malaysian films which would not have been created within the contained realm of Japan. No other location or time could have created that certain something that directly reaches out to us.
It’s not something that can be born and talked about using a single proper noun like Japan or Malaysia. It’s something that can only be born through the framework of Asia as well as the places and time where random cultures clash and react to one another while creating a buzz.

Edmund Yeo’s films not only help us focus our attention there but also continues to flow at the very center of all that.

Edmund Yeo’s first feature film River of Exploding Durians (2014) is a film in which he personally pursues the origin. A must-see.

けれど、それらはいつの間にかぼくのあいだをすり抜けて、次の旅先を目指して流れつづけてゆく。まるで、永遠に流れつづけること、永遠に到達しないことに意味があるかのように……。そいつの『イメージのはかなさ』(Fleeting Images)は、まるでそんな作品だった。作者は、マレーシア人で、エドモンド楊という。その第一印象は、こいつがそうなのか──と。




日本では、ヤスミン・アハマドの名前が突出して知られてはいるが、マレーシア映画の背景にあるものと、その現在、そしてこれからについて、どれほどのことが知られているものか……。エドモンドはあるインタヴューでこんなことを語っている──「マレーシアという国は、複数の民族と文化から成り立っている国です。私たちは皆、それぞれに異なる生活様式を持っているのです。ですから、私の場合は、マレーシア系中国人ですので、映画の登場人物たちは皆、北京語で話していますけれども、私たちの映画における時間の流れや視覚的な表現方法、そして、そこに息づいている感情といったものは、台湾映画や香港映画、中国映画で見られるものとは相当異なっているのではないかと思います」(「OUTSIDE IN TOKYO」 )










He described how my film has touched his heart, I too wanted to say that my heart is touched by this article. In case the article will ever be removed from the Short Shorts website, I will still have it in this journal. So I can hold on to it longer.

I also wanted to tell the author that him being reminded by Chris Marker's La Jetée isn't that surprising, after all, I was blatantly paying homage to his other film, SANS SOLEIL.

And now, as I am about to begin recording my voiceover for YASMIN-SAN, I would also want to tell him that, coincidentally, not only am I doing another work influenced by Chris Marker, I am also covering the late great filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad. However, when making YASMIN-SAN, the Chris Marker work in my mind was A.K., his 1985 film essay/ documentary which chronicled the making of Akira Kurosawa's RAN. A "making-of" documentary which veered into subjects like Kurosawa's personal childhood, World War 2, the spontaneous nature of filmmaking, the bond between cast and crew, and many others. I hope when I am done with YASMIN-SAN, I can add another piece of memory for someone like the author of the above article.

Monday, April 03, 2017

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.

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Photos and worm-eating misadventures from a documentary shoot

Ah yes, during the end of February, I was directing four documentary shorts for Channel News Asia, it was a one week shoot and each segment is only 2-3 minutes. The shoot took me to a few different cities and places, time for preparation was pretty short. I believed I was approached to direct them less than a week before the actual shoot. Nevertheless, I had fun.

And here are some photos (and videos) I took during the shoot.

Hello again, journal, let me tell you about my new film "Aqérat"

When was the last time I have actually posted here? Probably nearly 6 months ago, during the Tokyo International Film Festival. The truth is, ever since I figured that I can automatically post my Instagram posts here, I have gotten lazy.

But somehow, my Instagram pictures stopped appearing it, it's quite a bummer, but it means that I have to return and actually WRITE here. To my imaginary audience of one.

In that amount of time since I was gone, I have shot my new feature film, "Aqérat". That was late December. Been working on it since then.

"Aqérat", which means "life after death" in the Rohingyan language, tells the story of a desperate young woman named Hui Ling (played by regular collaborator Daphne Low) who gets involved in human trafficking. It's about the recent Rohingyan migrant crisis that had been happening the past few years, it's also a love story.

Film is shot in the Northern state of Kelantan, which is really close to the Thai-Malaysia border. Before the shoot, I've never been there before, but filmmaking is an act of constant exploration, thus it would have been a waste to not find a way to capture this beautiful, unique place onscreen.

Trusty TK the production designer and art director had once again uploaded production photos of the shoot. Great stuff, he deserved the Dongseo scholarship at last year's Asian Film Academy at the Busan International Film Festival :D

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour opus HAPPY HOUR

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's wonderful HAPPY HOUR, like the Iwai Shunji retrospective, was also part of the Japan Now section in the Tokyo International Film Festival.

I need to give props to Japan Now. Ever since the festival started this section last year, with Ando-sensei (yup, my former university professor Kohei Ando-sensei1!!) serving as programming advisor, the section has become one of the main attractions of the festival. The screening of noteworthy (of commercial or critical merit) Japanese films of the past year, complete with Q and A sessions moderated by Ando-sensei, had been great!

I remember having dinner with Ando-sensei in August right after he had served as jury member of the Guanajuato International Film Festival (where he saw Happy Hour for the very first time and awarded it the Best International Feature Narrative award) and we discussed about the trickiness of trying to program this film at the Tokyo International Film Festival due to its length (5 hours!!!) I said to Ando-sensei that if the film would ever show in the festival, I will definitely go and see it.

I'm very glad Ando-sensei managed to program the film, and made the experience even richer by making it an all-nighter screening!

I wrote this a few hours after the screening:

Monday, November 28, 2016

My love letter to Iwai Shunji's Love Letter

I wrote this on Facebook last month, after watching Iwai Shunji's Love Letter at the Tokyo International Film Festival. I have seen this film countless times in various forms, on VCD, on DVD, on digital file, either on TV or on computer, but never on the big screen, so that particular screening in Tokyo left me overwhelmed, and of course, nostalgic.

Here's my love letter to the film Love Letter:

I saw Iwai Shunji's Love Letter (2005) on the big screen today. Sometimes you see a film at the right time, at the right age, so you fall in love with it in ways you cannot imagine.

It was 1998. I was 14 when I first saw Love Letter, I think this might be the film that made me fell in love with Japanese cinema, the emotional impact it left me was immense. The lyricism, the romanticism, the pain of unspoken love and the melancholy of memories, I was intoxicated by these vivid feelings through this film. I loved a little more, contemplated a little more, daydreamed a little more, became more obsessed with the snow. Films can do these things to you, when you see it at the right time, at the right age.

Monday, November 21, 2016


It's already been a month and I never had the chance to write about the Tokyo International Film Festival.

This always happens when I'm preparing for a film shoot. I lose track of time. Today becomes yesterday, tomorrow becomes today, and I don't even notice it.

Last month I went to the Tokyo International Film Festival for the world premiere of the omnibus project, Asian Three-Fold Mirror: Reflections. I was one of the producers of the segment, Pigeon by Isao Yukisada (along with Ming Jin and Shunsuke Koga-san)

So, here are some photos of me at the red carpet. I managed to meet popular actor Saitoh Takumi, whom I met two years ago in Bali when he was doing the film Taksu. I also met Rin Takanashi, the star of Abbas Kiarostami's final film Like Someone in Love.