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The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme’s 20th Anniversary Highlight Reel

The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme’s 20th Anniversary Highlight Reel

The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme (JFTFP) is now in its 20th year in the UK, highlighting the creative oeuvre of Japan’s leading directors, storytellers and scriptwriters. This year’s theme, memories, times and reflections in Japanese cinema, is playing out across multiple stories at HOME from the 12th of February to the 6th of March.

There’s a broad range of material to dive into, like the UK premiere of Shadow of Fire, the latest project of Tsukamoto Shinya. A World War II ravaged Tokyo is the backdrop of a war orphan and a poor woman clawing their way forward to survive. On the other side of the spectrum is the whimsical anime Lonely Castle in the Mirror, following a group of children in the pursuit of wishes in a mystical castle.

Here are some of my highlights from the programme:

The Inerasable 

Horror comes in many forms and my favourite kind is psychological. There’s something unseen and sinister that can’t be explained and the more you try to understand it, the darker the world becomes. That is the vein of The Inerasable, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura.

Based on a horror novel by Fuyumi Ono, the film focuses on a mystery writer called Ai investigating an apartment with a history of murder and suicide. She’s contacted by a student, Kubo, who reads her work and it becomes clear that it’s not just the apartment that’s haunted – but the building itself.

The film is well-paced, playing with different horror cliches filtered through Ai’s interpretation of her own writing. One thread of mystery unravels, leading back through generations to the cause of a nightmare that doesn’t feel cliched.

The Zen Diary 

Psychological horror isn’t the only film on the menu. The Zen Diary serves up a story about the connective power of food and community. Based on the 1978 essay by Tsutomu Mizukami, The Zen Diary centres on the writer of the essay, an elderly cook living in the mountains.

The film is quintessentially Japanese, from how the cameras deliver intimate vistas of nature, to how the characters interact on screen and never show their feelings for each other verbally. Tsutomu’s existence is based entirely on the ingredients he collects in his local area and applying the Zen cooking techniques that he learned as a boy.

The calming nature of Tsutomu’s cooking is offset by the unexpected chaos that enters his life through his family. And it makes the power of food even more poignant in how it binds people to a place, an idea and a home. 

Do Unto Others 

Is old age a privilege or a curse? That’s a question Maeda Tetsu sets out to answer in his visceral Do Unto Others. Taking inspiration from the ‘Golden Rule’ of Christianity, the film is set in a care home environment with a disturbing pattern – over 40 deaths have happened since a caregiver, Shiba Munenori, has worked there.

The heart of the film is an ethical quandary about choosing to live and die on one’s terms. An exploration of suffering between those who’re cared for and those who provide the caring. When prosecutor Otomo Hidemi discovers that Shiba was responsible for the deaths, he doesn’t deny it. Instead, he sees the murders as salvation for both the elderly and their loved ones. 

The dynamic between Shiba and Hidemi is fantastically tense, as both make a case to justify the preservation and end of life. And the situation becomes even more intense when it’s suggested Hidemi isn’t the pillar of justice she claims to be either. 

As a caregiver myself, Do Unto Others resonated with me because of the complex feelings that the film seeks to address. The themes of the film are timeless and connect across generations.

Enjoy the JFTFP for yourself at HOME from the 12th of February to the 6th of March.

Bio: Jamie Ryder is the founder of Yamato Magazine, a Manchester-based publication that celebrates Japanese culture worldwide. A qualified sake sommelier and Japanese drinks educator, Ryder also works as a copywriter. 

Published: 16-Feb-2024: (7388)

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