Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: IFFAM 2019 [Macao, China]

The aspect of a foreign film festival is to provide a perspective of what is both possible and perceivable throughout the world. Within the essence of the 4th iteration of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (aka IFFAM), the idea is as much about the human experience and its psychological impact as it is about the final result. The films, in their own way, reflect that.

JoJo Rabbit The opening night film while an interesting diatribe in the States is an angled approach for Far Eastern audiences who can be primarily removed in many aspects of Western culture. The story inherently is one of tolerance but the tone is just a little bit off from satire. It believes it is funnier than it is which is to its detriment. If it was played a little more extreme (“Top Secret” [1984] despite its over the top tongue-in-cheek quality understood this much better) it would have much greater impact. The balance of the love story has possibility but never quite makes its connection. Waititi plays Hitler with an aloofness that is not altogether wrong but, at certain points where he could have made some metaphorical points that didn’t necessarily align with history, he misses the mark. The audience would have gone with him on the journey undeniably but it is a lost opportunity. Some of the greatest heart of film comes not from the lead JoJo but from his best friend [Yorki played by Archie Yates] who gets the inevitably of it all right. It is only through him and, in a very specific way, Sam Rockwell as a commander who both has a secret to keep but a brazen nihilistic feeling of his own existence that makes it work. They seem to get it. Granted Rockwell did “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” and he still hit that exactly right. At one point when Rockwell jumps out with his gun and winks at the camera during a battle scene, you get a sense of what the film could be. Scarlett Johansson tries but she should have been allowed to play the comedy much more broadly where she mostly sticks to a certain angle. She has a gift for it and that smile when she shows it belies the kind of heart that is sometimes missing from her roles since many of her characters are in misery.

Buoyancy Misery is a continuing structure in many of the Far East films integrated here. “Buoyancy” knows what it is: a tale of primality through and through. Hope in the lead character is an overrated commodity. The story follows a boy in Cambodia who believes he is made for bigger things. But his naiavte ends up placing him on a Thai fishing ship basically as identured labor where he needs to survive in learning by example. The example unfortunately is undeniably brutal.  One scene involving what is akin to drawn and quartered with boats shows the incessant darkness of the story. But in true form, the weak must become strong and lose a sense of right and wrong to exist in the gray.

Wisdom Tooth The aspect of a better life is sometimes wasted on the eyes of the beholder. Just getting by versus seeing how the better half lives can sometimes be a curse. A sister works at a hotel and is kept happy by the smaller things in a corner of China. Her brother, or the man she believes is her brother, cares for her and life continues in a sense of suspended animation. There are aspects of the underworld and corruption in play but it is portrayed simply in many ways a part of the fabric of life. The lead actress is replete in her details recording things she hears including that which might be against her own best interests. The interests dovetail which is a bit off kilter but undeniably conflictive. Her brother finally makes a connection with a romantic love bathed in a secret and yet the relationship doesn’t play with a sense of protection but jealousy. It is an interesting dynamic but yet played to an awkward level bouyed by a sense of loneliness which creates an interesting dichitomy of drama. The kind of pain she feels (in the scene shown in the photo above) is akin to a wisdom tooth. so close and yet so far away, something that can’t be removed except with excessive pain.

I’m Livin It Like “Wisdom Tooth” before it, the closing night film is replete with people suffering through their own ego but also their inherent situation. Aaron Kwok always tends to show an interest in people on the slight fringe of society who are a result of the circumstances. The title is a reflection of the 24-hour McDonalds-type establishment ability per se to act as a haven or oasis for homeless people, at least in Hong Kong. Kwok plays Bowen who used to be a financial maven until he was convicted of embezzlement. The film doesn’t really expand on the psychological reasoning of his character’s fall from grace but rather his incessant need to redeem himself while doing really nothing to improve his situation. Everyone in the film seemingly has a hang up which continually holds them back yet the story is one of perservance even as every character seems to fall further down the rabbit hole against their own best interests.  Ultimately the movie does pull at the heartstrings in concert with the viewer’s own best instincts. The fact is that the people try so hard and they have talent but life seemingly just is stacked against them. Times are tough and the film doesn’t bely that point but it has resolutes itself with a sense of integrity even in the face of certain tragedy.

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV: THE PLANTERS [AFI Fest 2019] – Part I

IR Print Quick Take: Rise Of The Actresses – The 2019 Okinawa Film Festival [Okinawa, Japan]

It was very hard not to pay attention to the many talented Actresses gracing the red carpet and the screenings of the 11th Okinawa Film Festival. This year, among others, the festival had invited from Japan: Honoka Matsumoto and Ayame Misaki as well as from Myanmar: Wutt Hmone Shwe Yi.

Beyond their enchanting beauty, one can only be impressed by their charismatic screen presence that not only already put a spell on the Asian market but with talent that should spread to The West and Hollywood very soon. Between a busy schedule on the red carpet and series of interviews with the Asian and international press, these fine young ladies granted an interview to speak about their current endeavors. Grab some sushi and a glass of sake, the séance is about to begin.

Tell us a little more about your roles that are playing here at Okinawa Film Festival…

Ayame Misaki: I play Yuko, a pregnant woman in the new family comedy from Gori: “Bone Born Bone”. The movie takes place in Okinawa. [The story follows] the anniversary of the death of the wife and mother of one of the families on the Island. It is time to honour the dead by practicing the ritual of bone washing, which involves the exhumation of the corpse and the washing of the bones. In fact, the movie is about the symbols of Life and Death. As a pregnant woman I represent Life.

Honoka Matsumoto: I have two films here: “My Life Upside Down” and “My Father, The Bride”: two films with a great sense of humor and a great sensibility. They are all about family dynamics and how it is important to find ways of communication inside of the family unit. It shows also how the notion of family is different today and goes beyond the standard definition, and how it goes beyond genders as well. Ultimately we need to focus on love, the love that binds us together. I think it also shows how the notion of family has changed in Japan lately. It used to be a very patriarchal society and it still is; but, in many instances, we see how women today are much more independent and truly play a pivotal role at home and sometimes even in the corporate world.

Wutt Hmone Shwe Yi: My film is “My Country My Home”. It’s the emotional story of a young girl who finds out she comes from Myanmar but even so she grew up in Japan. Her dad decides to go back to Myanmar and she has a tough time dealing with this decision because she loves Japan.

In what way do you think these movies fit with the themes of the festival: Peace and Laugh?

Ayame: The whole movie is about love and peace with some settled humor at times. So it does fit perfectly the themes of this festival. Also, we filmed this movie in Okinawa for a month so it’s like a home coming situation showing our film at the festival. It’s interesting because our film is about the clashing of a family who is going to learn how to live again together beyond their grief. At the end, they are at peace with themselves and each other.

Honoka: Laugh and Peace are at the heart of my two films playing here for sure. It’s all about loving with a smile, a sense of humor. It’s always easier to make people happy by smiling and making them laugh, right?! Yes, having fun is important and laughing and being in a happy state of mind can only lead to Peace.

Wutt: My movie is totally about the love and peace that my dad has for his country Myanmar. And so am I. I do have a love for my dad and for Japan. The mood of the movie is light and therefore there are also smiling moments…which fits perfectly the spirit of the festival of Okinawa.

What does the word “Peace” mean to you?

Ayame: There are many meanings to the notion of Peace. Peace is something that can be a very personal approach. The many versions of Peace can lead to the big Peace we need in the World. Maybe this movie in some way shows that if there is Peace in the family there could be Peace in the World..?

Honoka: Peace is One People, One Planet! Peace is also about the love of your family, and anywhere you are you have to feel this love, this peace. I don’t think we should focus on differences between us but on what can unite us. Peace is universal.

Wutt: Love and Peace are the most important things in Life. Without them you can’t survive. If you’re peaceful within you can spread that peace around you.

What challenges did you face making these films?

Ayame: Without a doubt “being” pregnant was a huge challenge as I carried a fake silicon belly under my clothes at all times, before and during the shooting. For me it was important to “feel” pregnant on top of “looking” pregnant. What is funny was to see the reaction on the faces of other people in the street, and in restaurants, who thought I was truly pregnant! Even at night or under the shower I wasn’t removing my fake belly. That’s commitment!

What are your hopes with a movie like this? What impact do you think this film can have on people? And did it change you?

Ayame: I hope people get a better understanding of their own family. I think this movie shows how important family is. It is the most cherished thing we have. So we need to get along with each other and find ways of communicating our various feelings in spite of the possible differences we might experience at the time. It also shows that Love prevails and is the most important thing on earth. We need to cherish Love. It is the true force that unites us.

Honoka: I hope people realize by watching my film that nobody can live on your own and by yourself your entire existence…we need each other. If you keep everything within, if you don’t open to others, you will eventually blow up and break down. It’s important to always express your feelings whether they are happy or sad feelings. You need to learn to trust others and count on others.

Wutt: I hope people realize that we are, in part, one people and one planet. We need to unite people of all race, genders and cultures. And it’s very important to respect and tolerate each other. We need to better understand each other and this leads to World Peace.

By Emmanuel Itier

IR Print Quick Take: Made In Japan Animation – The 2019 Okinawa Film Festival [Okinawa, Japan]

The ultimate experience while at the Okinawa Film Festival was the visit of the CGCG Animation Studio which has the biggest motion-capture set up in Asia.

Not only is CGCG Studios doing motion capture but they also are producing 3D computer graphic video using motion capture technology. The studio is now located in Tokyo and Okinawa in Japan as well as Taipei in Taiwan with just under 200 employees under the direction of CEO, Koji Matsumoto. Needless to say CGCG has become the most competitive partner for movies, tv and gaming with series such as “Blade & Soul”, game “Kamen Rider Battride War” or even the iconic “The Clone Wars” produced mainly in the Taiwan operation.

On a sunny afternoon, Mr. Takeshi Yamazoe welcomed our team to the CGCG Studio in full motion capture costume to explain us the process of filming sequences using these high tech resources. Mr. Yamazoe explained how the studio is unique as it belongs both to the city of Okinawa and to private investors. It is also used as an education center as well as a commercial vehicle to produce state-of-the-art programming. Motion capture is now used in most special effect driven features, animated series and games manufacturing. With the team of CGCG studio the future is bright in this Okinawa hub.

To further our animated experience we also got introduced to the maverick young prodigy: Ujicha, director of “Violence Voyager”. For his animated short, Ujicha, who graduated from Kyoto Sag Art University, used the technique called Geki-mation which is a process where paper cutouts are moved in front of a background and special effects are added. This is a unique technique giving a vivid, life like appearance to the animated endeavor.

There is a richness and diversity to the CGCG studio team which contributes to their leadership position in the region as master magicians in their field.

By Emmanuel Itier

Fest Track On Sirk TV: LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER [Beloit International Film Festival 2019] – Part II