14 November 2011

Japan in Germany 6: Marie Miyayama

On Friday night I had the pleasure of watching Marie Miyayama's The Red Spot (Der Rote Punkt / 赤い点, 2008) for the second time at the Deutches Filmmuseum Frankfurt as part of the Nippon Connection Film Special at Japan Week.  This was my first time seeing the film in its original 35mm format and the colours were even more brilliant than in the digital format.  In addition to the obvious uses of red with Aki’s backpack, her mother’s lipstick, her aunt’s umeboshi, and the dot on the map, there were more subtle uses of red on the curtains in Aki’s room and the dress of Mary in Johannes’s carving of Mary and the baby Jesus. 

It’s a beautifully shot film, and I found myself even more strongly moved by the actors’ performances the second time round which for me is always the sign of a well made film.  I was happy that I had seen the film once before with English subtitles for the southern German dialect of “Allgäuerisch” is challenging for me.  However, I noticed that there was much more laughter at this screening of The Red Spot than there was at Shinsedai 2010 in Toronto because the Frankfurt audience picked up on the subtleties of the local humour – especially in the scene when Johannes has to pick Elias up at the police station and in the scene when Aki’s elementary German confuses Johannes.

Marie Miyayama (宮山麻里枝, b. 1972) was also in attendance and took questions from the audience after the screening.  Miyayama was born and grew up in Tokyo.  She came to Germany in 1995 to study filmmaking at the Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich and she remains based in Munich.  During the Q+A, Miyayama pinpointed the first time she saw Wim WendersAlice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten/都会のアリス, 1974) as being the moment that she fell in love with European cinema. 

Someone in the audience noted that Aki, the main protagonist in The Red Spot, was about the same age that Miyayama was when she first came to Germany and wondered if there were any autobiographical elements in this film.  Miyayama replied that many personal elements come into her films mainly through her own interest in exploring intercultural themes.  She also prefers to write her own screenplays in order that she may look deep into herself to bring some kind of personal truth to her films.  However, that being said, it should be remembered that The Red Spot was based on someone else’s story.  When Miyayama was working as an interpreter, she had a female client who came to Germany with just such a red spot on a map and employed Miyayama to help her find this spot where her family had died on the famed “Romantic Road” (Romantische Straße) between Würzburg and Füssen.  In the film, we see one of the most famous sightseeing attractions of the Romantic Road, Schloss Neuschwanstein, in the photos that Aki finds on her parents’ camera.  In real life, the woman that Miyayama assisted was a cousin of the lost family, not the surviving child, and as the story was developed into a screenplay many more fictional elements were added to the plot.

So far, The Red Spot has enjoyed a proper theatrical release in Germany and has been well received at international film festivals.  Miyayama remains ever hopeful that she could also release the film in Japanese theatres.  So far, the film has only shown twice in Japan at a festival for women filmmakers and at a German film festival.  It will be screened again in December at Waseda University as part of the celebration of 150 years of friendship between Japan and Germany. 

Miyayama has taken a short maternity break from filmmaking but is now working on new projects.  With an eye on continuing her exploration of intercultural themes, she is working on a scenario about a German woman who goes to Japan.  Not wanting to pigeonhole herself as a director; however, this film will be a comedy.   

To see more photos from this event, go to my Google Plus profile.

For more information about Marie Miyayama, see her homepage and her profile at Japanese Women Behind the Scenes.

This event was sponsored by Nippon Connection: