Love Japanese films? Your perfect date starts today
For decades, The Japan Foundation, Manila (JFM) has presented the Japan Film Festival here, offering a pretty cozy hookup for local film lovers: plenty of culture, history, romance, anime, comedy and drama presented onscreen, within local cinemas houses.
But COVID has meant adaptation, and JFM has moved to a virtual film fest these past few years. But even a long-distance relationship is preferable to none, so the JFF commences today, Valentine’s Day, with some 20 screenings, discussions and panels and fan giveaways up until Feb. 27.
Still free, the online system is catered more to our at-home lifestyles, with sign-up platforms to pick and stream your chosen films to watch within 48 hours. Unlike other streaming platforms, though, JFF offers a raft of panels and discussions to enhance the filmgoing experience. “We want the JFF to be seamless, online, viewable at home,” says JFM director Ben Suzuki, while remaining a different experience from a subscription platform to simply watch films, such as Netflix. “It’s a different creature altogether. It’s a film festival, so we wanted to provide a platform to interact with panels, to show how viewers are enjoying the fest.”
With 20 films on the roster—including seven new Japanese films (Awake, Under the Open Sky, Ito, It’s a Summer Film!, Hido’s Cookbook, Aristocrats, Masked Ward), intriguing documentaries (The God of Ramen and Sumodo: The Successors of Samurai), award-winning anime (Time of Eve, Patema Inverted), dramas (ReLIFE, Happy Flight, Her Love Boils Bathwater, Until the Break of Dawn, Ozland), classics (Rashomon, The Floating Castle), and even culinary films (The Bread of Happiness, The Chef of South Polar)—it’s even easier to sign up, pick your viewing times, and watch your chosen films (for free) within a 48-hour period.
Simply go to the JFF site to create an account, then choose your films and play, or watch later at your leisure. Final viewings will close on Feb. 28. In addition, there will be online panels and discussions with critics and fans (“Let’s Talk About Japanese Films”) on Valentine’s Day, 5 p.m., and on Feb. 22; and an online campaign to post selfies (#JFFOnline2022, #JFF2022), reviews, and win fun JFF merchandise (bags, lanyards, etc.).
According to Suzuki, even if we’re still a little far apart, not quite ready to travel again to Japan, the JFF Online 2022 offers an escape. “We watch films to be entertained, to be educated, to escape from the humdrum of daily life, and to travel beyond space and time. This is at the heart of the Japanese Film Festival: to share glimpses of Japanese culture to the world, one cinematic experience at a time.”
JFF festival director Masafumi Konomi adds, “Because travel is still restricted, it will offer something you will relate to, to feel like you’re visiting Japan again.” He cites culinary films like The Bread of Happiness, shot in a hotel in Hokkeido, a winter wonderland that appeals to Filipinos; or Mio’s Cookbook, a drama set in a soba restaurant during the Edo period.
And since the festival opens on Valentine’s Day, there’s some romance to stoke viewers on Feb. 14. (Suzuki suggests ReLIFE, taken from an anime about high school and choosing a new life, as a “good Valentine’s experience.”)
But romance can encompass everything about the Japanese film experience, whether it’s the locations, the history, the food, the people or the culture. “Through the collaboration of various elements that include truth-seeking narration, exquisite cinematography, superb acting and captivating sound, films are indeed powerful vehicles for cultural exchange and bilateral relations,” says Suzuki.
Since Filipino and Japanese filmmakers have been intertwined a lot lately at the independent level, with directors like Brillante Mendoza (Gensan Punch) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car) tapping Filipino actors, I asked if Japan will see more of these collaborations in the future. For instance, one of the films under discussion in the two-part panel is Kita-Kita—a Filipino film shot in Japan that became the highest grossing Filipino independent film of 2017.
Konomi acknowledged that the Japan film industry has “very limited assistance” from government for such tie-ups and that the “dominant players still go the traditional way,” using local film talent. But Suzuki says he’s seen that independent films are “much more connected” these days. “This movement will become more active,” he believes, with young directors like Hamaguchi and others seeking to work with Filipino filmmakers and players.
The very essence of film is romance: it’s about discovery and the ineffable play of life. Of course, the organizers of Japan Film Festival would love to be back on the big screens, where we could all converge again. But after the success of the 2021 JFF online, they feel this version offers the most “seamless” experience for viewers who want to reignite their passion for Japanese cinema.