31 August 2012

Japan in Germany 9: Shinro Ohtake at documenta 13

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The first weekend in August, my husband and I visited documenta 13 in Kassel.  The amount of art, live performances, and film on offer at documenta 13 is simply overwhelming, so we picked out a few artists whose work we definitely wanted to see and saw a number of other interesting works incidentally while wandering through the installation spaces.

Soil-erg.2012 by Claire Pentecost

My husband, being a conservation biologist, was interested in American artist Claire Pentecost’s installation of soil shaped like gold bars at the Ottoneum.  The concept of soil being as valuable as gold is very relevant to our times as we enter the post-oil era. (b. 1956, artist profile) (artist website)

Image of a metronome in Kentridge's "The Refusal of Time"

I happily stood in line for ages to get into the William Kentridge (b. 1955) installation “The Refusal of Time” (2012) in the Hauptbahnhof North Wing.  Kentridge’s animation has been highly influential – one can see the influence in the charcoal animations of Japanese experimental animator Naoyuki Tsuji, for example (see: Angel).  “The Refusal of Time” is projected on 5 screens with a mechanical machine in the middle.  It explores the various ways humanity has tried to capture time: metronomes, pressurized clocks, time zones, music, and so on.  There were elements of animation (stop motion, drawn) and live action with Kentridge himself even appearing in some scenes.  It is a complex work and I wish I could have spent the whole day in the installation just to be able to take in the diverse elements at work in it.  Learn more about the installation in this interview with the artist.

Also high on my list of things to see were the paintings of Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945, CBC article) on display at the Neue Gallerie.  I had previously only seen a couple of her paintings in person at the McMichael Gallery in Ontario.  It is such a different experience to see her work in person than reprinted in books – they create a certain atmosphere that is hard to put into words.  The seven paintings on display were of her later work and the influences of Fauvism and Cubism were very evident.  Dark and hauntingly beautiful pieces.

As much as I love Emily Carr, she seemed a bit out of place in the documenta.  She seemed to have been selected to balance out the two Australian artists sharing a room with her – Margaret Preston (1875-1963) and Gordon Bennett (b.1955) – whose work is also influenced by aboriginal art.  All three were surrounded by conceptual and installation art – which represents the bulk of documenta works.  The neighbouring room, for example, featured the work of Geoffrey Farmer (b. 1967), which was perhaps the most popular installation at the documenta.  “Leaves of Grass” has been featured widely on magazine covers and newspaper articles – it has mass appeal not only because of the immensity of the project but also because of the popular subject matter: pictures cut from 5 decades of Life magazine (see Guardian review).  The link to Carr is that Farmer is also from British Columbia and attended the art college named after her – but it terms of style and subject matter these two could not be more different.

Japan was represented at documenta 13 by Shinro Ohtake (b. 1955, official website).  Ohtake is known as a collector from his ongoing series of “Scrap Books” (1977-) to the strange collages and ephemera decorating the “I Love Yu” Bathhouse in Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture (article).  Ohtake’s “Mon Cheri: A Self Portrait as a Scrapped Shed” installation in Karlsaue Park shares much in common with the “I Love Yu” Bathhouse.  “Mon Cheri” is an example of a “snack bar” – the kind of hut one might find frequented by eccentric locals at an off-the-beaten track seaside town.  The neon sign was apparently found by Ohtake ten years ago and the Scrapped Shed was inspired by a defunct snack bar in Uwajima.

We could hear the Mon Cheri snack bar before we could see it as we traversed through the expansive grounds of Karlsaue Park.  At first the music was tinny and difficult to recognize, but as we got closer the song changed and I heard the familiar strains of Kyu Sakamoto’s rendition of the Jimmy Jones hit “Good Timin’.”  The snack bar has been installed under an impressively huge tree, and boats of various kinds are strewn around the bar on the ground and in the tree.  There is also a small caravan next to the snack bar. The snack bar is covered with newspaper and magazine clippings from both Japan and Germany.  The bar was wall-to-wall with a collection of junk from bicycle tires to a guitar and even miniature video screens displaying abstract videos. 

The junk in the tree caused a number of German commentators to suggest that this was a reference to the devastating tsunami of March 2011, but the title of the installation suggested to me that this was a much too literal interpretation.  As a self portrait, it seemed to me that the artist sees himself as being formed from the random detritus of popular and disposable artifacts of modern culture.  One could detect a sense of humour in the way in which the objects and clippings had been assembled – Ohtake appears to both love all this junk and be aware that all these things are simply fleeting in their nature.

Judge for yourself by checking out my photo album of Ohtake’s installation.

documenta 13 runs until September 16. 

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

27 August 2012

Hiroshima International Animation Festival 2012

The biannual Hiroshima InternationalAnimation Festival 2012 came to a conclusion today.  The final competition consisted of 66 works selected from 2,110 entries from around the world.  The international jury included Aleksandra Korejwo (Poland), Igor Kovalyov (USA), Irina Margolina (Russia), Kosei Ono (Japan), and Marv Newland (Canada) – whose classic film Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) was screened on 16mm at my 10th birthday party and had a profound effect on me ;)  The international honorary president of the festival was Peter Lord of Aardman. A selection of Lord’s works were also screened at the festival.

The winners are as follows:

Grand Prize

I Saw Mice Burying a Cat (Dmitry Geller, China, 2011)

Hiroshima Prize
Kali, the Little Vampire (Regina Pessoa, Portugal/France/Canada, Switzerland, 2012)

Debut Prize
Sticky Ends (Osman Cerfon, France, 2010)

Renzo Kinoshita Prize
Futon (Yoriko Mizushiri, Japan, 2012)

Audience Prize
Head Over Heels (Timothy Reckart, UK, 2012)

Special International Jury Prize
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 2011)
Ursus (Reinis Petersons, Latvia, 2011)
Sunday (Patrick Doyon, Canada, 2011)
Tram (Michaela Pavlátová, France, 2012)
Chinti (Natalia Mirzoyan, Russia, 2011)

Special Prize
two (Steven Subotnick, USA, 2011)
Howl (Natalie Bettelheim+Sharon Michaeli, Israel, 2011)
The Little Bird and the Leaf (Lena von Döhren, Switzerland, 2012)
The Great Rabbit (Atsushi Wada, France, 2011)
Muybridge’s Strings (Koji Yamamura, Canada/Japan, 2011)

Read more about the winning films at the official website for Hiroshima 2012.

Seven works by Japanese artists made the official competition:

The Great Rabbit (Atsushi Wada, 2011) (read review)
Muybridge’s Strings (Koji Yamamura, 2011) (read review)
The Light (Yuka Sukegawa, 2010)
Rain Town (Hiroyasu Ishida, 2011)
SPONCHOI Pispochoi (pecoraped, 2010)
Yonalure: Moment to Moment (Ayaka Nakata + Yuki Sakitani, 2011)
Futon (Yoriko Mizushiri, 2012)

In addition to the competition, this year’s festival celebrated the 30th anniversary of ASIFA-JAPAN, which was founded by the co-founders of the Hiroshima festival – the current ASIFA president Sayoko Kinoshita and her late husband Renzo Kinoshita (read more about them).  The ASIFA-JAPAN 30th Anniversary Special Program celebrated the works of its members through screenings of their animated works and an exhibition of objects related to their works including puppets, paintings, books, and installations.

I was deeply disappointed not to be able to attend the festival this year as there were many special presentations I would have loved to have seen: a Jiří Trnka Special Program to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth; an homage to the late Nobuhiro Aihara (see poster for this year's festival), whose works are so rarely screened outside of Japan; and a focus on animation from Norway.  There was also an omnibus presentation of the best in recent world animation, a special on contemporary Japanese animation, a program for children, and a program on works by students.  In a nod to the founding ethos of the festival, a selection of peace-themed films were also screened dedicated to “the spirit and the heart of Hiroshima.” 

 cmmhotes 2012

22 August 2012

Ink Brush Animator Reiko Yokosuka

I first became aware of the beautiful ink brush animation of Reiko Yokosuka (横須賀令子) when I saw Kihachiro Kawamoto’s renku animation Winter Days (2003).  Yokosuka was one of several notable women animators (which I discussed in my Forum des Images postings earlier this year) to participate in the collaborative project.  Her interpretation of stanza 24 by Yasui (1658-1743) is minimalist in comparison to the animations of Keita Kurosaka and Yuko Asano that precede and follow her.  Delicate lines of black ink brushed onto washi paper flow gracefully across the screen transforming into a path on which a veiled lady in a broad hat walks.  As it begins to rain, ghostly forms of bamboo appear behind her as she removes her hat and veil and closes her eyes to take in the elements.  The vignette ends with the woman dancing in the wind, her long hair and kimono swirling around her as she transforms into a tree. 

Yokosuka’s animation style comes out of the tradition of sumi-e (brush painting) and she has experimented with the medium since her very first animated short Illusions (1981).  Yokosuka was born and raised in the small city of Hitachinaka in Ibaraki Prefecture where she developed an interest in both the natural and supernatural with trees, mermaids, and the spirit world appearing regularly in her works (source).  Growing up she was a fan of the female mangaka such as Ryoko Yamagishi (山岸 凉子, b. 1947), whose work often has occult themes, and the “founding mother” of modern shōjo manga Moto Hagio (萩尾 望都, b. 1949).

In 2003, Yokosuka participated in the Laputa Top 150 Japanese and World Animation poll where she revealed a fondness for an eclectic range of animation styles foreign and domestic, popular and alternative.  Among the mainstream works that she listed were Horus: Prince of the Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968), Disney’s Fantasia (1940), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984), the anime adaptation of Takashi Yanase’s Ringing Bell (Masami Hata, 1978), and even Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996). Works she lists by her fellow alternative animators include: The Man Who Planted Trees (Frédéric Back, 1987), Hedgehog in the Fog (Yuri Norstein, 1975), Dojoji Temple (Kihachiro Kawamoto, 1976), Revolver (Jonas Odell/Stig Bergkvist/Marti Ekstrand/Lars Olsson, 1993), The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, 1982), The Restaurant of Many Orders (Tadanari Okamoto/Kihachiro Kawamoto, 1991), The Sand Castle (Co Hoedeman, 1977), ATAMA (Keita Kurosaka, 1994), PULSAR (Katsushi Boda, 1990), The Bead Game (Ishu Patel, 1977), Bavel's Book (Koji Yamamura, 1996). 

In addition to ink brush on washi paper, Yokosuka has experimented animating with coloured pencils, pastels, watercolour, and even copper.  Her works are quite difficult to track down, but fortunately the Sapporo Short Fest did a retrospective of her works in 2009 and posted sample clips from some of her films online:

A Piper (aka Crater Tree, 1987):

Movement (2003):

GAKI Biwa-Houshi (2005):

She also did a short short called Monban (Gatekeeper) for an animation omnibus sponsored by Open Yokohama which they posted earlier this year:

Yokosuka is currently based in Sapporo.  For more information, check out her official homepage (JP only).  I also just posted her profile on the Japanese Animation Filmography Project.

Bavel’s Book (バベルの本, 1996)

In many ways, Koji Yamamura’s animated short Bavel’s Book (バベルの本, 1996) marks the beginning of his maturity as an artist.  In terms of technique, Yamamura very early became a master of the craft of animating frame-by-frame by hand, but from Bavel’s Book on his films start to engage more deeply with literary and philosophical themes.  Inspired in part by the short story “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges, Bavel’s Book is reminiscent of Michael Ende’s novel The Neverending Story (Die Unendliche Geschichte, 1979) in its depiction of the magical world of a book come to life.

One winter's day, a young boy and his little sister race to catch the bus but are disappointed when they miss it, despite the fact that an older bald man boarding the bus spots them approaching.  They sit down on the bench to await the next bus, panting from the exertion, and discover that the man has left a large leather-bound book on the bench.  Upon opening the book, the children are blasted with hurricane force winds that shoot out of it.  To the children’s wonderment, when the wind abates the ancient tower of Babel grows out of the pages of the book.  Peering inside a hole at the top of the tower, the boy sees a hexagonal library with hexagonal galleries.  This is Yamamura's interpretation of Borges’ famous Library of Babel:  

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.   .  .  From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below – one after another endlessly.  .  .  In the vestibule there is a mirror, which faithfully duplicates appearances.  Men often infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite – if it were, what need would there be for that illusory replication?  I prefer to dream that burnished surfaces are a figuration and promise of the infinite.  .  .”  
- Borges, “The Library of Babel”, Fictions (Penguin Modern Classics),  p. 65

A miniature figure of the bald man is sitting at a large desk in the centre of the lowest level of library reading a book.  As he turns the pages, strange figures and shapes seem to come out of the book as if by magic, and just as mysteriously disappear again.  When the man leaves the library, the boy reaches down to grasp the tiny book.  Opening it he finds that he and his sister are transported to the sea where they fish from a pirate ship and drag their giant catch up the sand of a desert island.  They roast and eat their fish peacefully, unaware that danger lurks underneath them in the form of a giant sea monster.  Can the children use their imaginative powers to save themselves from the monster?  You must watch the film for yourself to find out!

The layers of depth to the story are mirrored in Yamamura’s trademark layering of the image using an animation table.  He employs a variety of techniques including drawn animation, cutouts, ink splotches – Yamamura is never a purist – he uses whatever materials he needs in order to get the visual results that he desires.  Bavel’s Book is complemented by an inspired soundtrack composed by the microtonal pop group Syzygys (Hitomi Shimizu + Hiromi Nishida), who frequently collaborate with Yamamura (Pacusi, Atama Yama, Kafka Inaka Isha, etc.).  The film brought Yamamura widespread acclaim including awards at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and the ’97 Seoul Animation Expo.  It was featured in the Panorama section at Annecy 97 and is one of ComicBox’s picks for the 30 Treasures of World Animation that did not make the Laputa 150 in 2003.

*** A note on the title:  In Japanese, “Babel” is written in katakana バベル.  The character (be) is also often used to represent “ve” in Japanese as they do not have an equivalent to the “v” sound in their language.  For example Venezuela is written ベネズエラin katakana which would be rendered “Benezuela” in romaji.  Thus the “Bavel” in the official English title is likely the result of the word “Babel” being translated to katakana and back to romaji again. Confusingly, the compound ヴェ is also sometimes used for “ve” as in the city of Verona (ヴェローナ). Transliteration is not an exact science. ***
cmmhotes 2012
The film is available on the following DVDs:

Order from Japan via cdjapan:
Order from the USA:
Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor and other Fantastic Films by Koji Yamamura

16 August 2012

kingyo (2009)

The young female protagonist of kingyo (2009) is dressed in a maid’s costume and wanders the streets of Akihaba offering maid tours of the district for ¥10,000.  Business is going slowly except for an odd request by a creeper, but then the woman (Luchino Fujisaki aka Rukino Fujisaki) encounters her former university professor (Takao Kawaguchi) who pays for a tour in order to enjoy an hour of her company.

Sensei looks tired and haggard and we soon learn that the pair were once lovers.  When the woman broke it off, she gave sensei the parting gift of a pair of goldfish which he took home and gave to his wife (Amane Kudo).  Affairs, even when both participants are single, more often than not create an emotional mess when they go sour but when a spouse is cheating it adds the pain of deceit and disloyalty into the mix.   Visual cues suggest that sensei loved both his wife and his lover and is torn apart by the fact that in caring for the beautiful goldfish his now recently deceased wife was unwittingly nourishing his memories of his former lover.  The man’s dilemma is eloquently expressed not only in the face of the talented performance artist Takao Kawaguchi playing the sensei, but also in director Edmund Yeo’s innovative use of the split screen technique. 

Split screen is a technique that goes back a long way in cinema history, but in my opinion it has not yet reached its dramatic potential.  It has been used for comic effect – as in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedy Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) and these days is often used to liven up music videos or concert footage.  A number of directors have used it successfully for dramatic effect such as Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments (2007).  Yeo’s use of the split screen is similar to that used by Roger Avary in The Rules of Attraction (2002): showing two actions that are happening simultaneously.    It works both to build tension (such as the parallel actions of the sensei and the student in Akihabara) and to add atmosphere to scenes (two shots of same scene: the wind blowing the curtains gently as the wife observes the goldfish in their bowl. It also adds suggestive story information as in the brief split screen of the wife and the lover.

The most difficult section to shoot and edit must have been the dialogue between sensei and the student during his “tour” of Akihabara.  Yeo used a two camera set-up and it all looks very minimalistic and graceful, but having worked on film shoots in Toronto, I imagine it must have been technically very challenging to get the lighting and camera positioning right.

Like Love Suicides (2009), kingyo is another adaptation of a short story by Yasunari Kawabata.  The original story “Canary” (1924) featured canaries instead of goldfish.  Yeo informed me that he thought goldfish were more Japanese than canaries, and they certainly look stunning in close-ups.  The choice of fish reminded me of Kuniko Mukoda’s short story “Mr. Carp” which involves a former mistress giving her married lover a koi fish.  If I remember correctly, the starring fish evokes feelings of guilt on the part of the man.   

It  is a beautifully shot and edited film.  Yeo has a delicate touch when it comes to creating atmosphere in his films.  I was particularly taken with the actors’ performances – particularly Kawaguchi who has an extraordinarily expressive face.  kingyo made the short list for best short film at Venice in 2009 and won awards at the Larissa Mediterranean Festival of New Filmmakers and the Eibunren Awards 2009.


This is the third in a series of reviews of the short films of the award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo (b. Singapore, 1984).  A graduate of Murdoch University in Australia, Yeo has been based in Tokyo since 2008 when he moved there to pursue a Master’s degree at Waseda.  His films have received wide acclaim at international festivals including Cannes, Pusan, and Rotterdam.

Edmund Yeo Filmography (homepage)

Chicken Rice Mystery (2008)
kingyo (2009)
The White Flower (2010)
Afternoon River, Evening Sky (2010)
NOW (2010)
Inhalation (2010)
Exhalation (2010)

Tada’s Do-It-All House (まほろ駅前多田便利軒, 2011)

The fictitious town of Mahoro in Kanagawa prefecture is one of those inbetween communities framing the edges of Metro Tokyo.  Not a major city center in itself and with most people commuting to jobs in Tokyo, there’s really not much of interest going on.  It doesn't even draw tourists as it’s too far from the sea and not in the mountains.  The people who live there don’t really have much ambition to leave, and if they do, they usually come drifting back. 

At least, that is how it seems to Keisuke Tada (Eita), who runs a benri-ya (do-it-all-house) near the train station.  He advertises himself as a jack-of-all-trades doing everything from babysitting a chihuahua to working as a handyman.  He’s handsome and seems intelligent, so it is a bit of a mystery as to why he is doing such low paying work instead of working for a company in Tokyo. 

Mahoroeki Maetada Benriken / Japanese Movie

This mystery is the main element that creates tension in the film and awakes our curiosity to learn more about him.  The mystery deepens one evening when, after finishing up a job spying on bus drivers for their suspicious boss, Tada discovers that the chihuahua he is babysitting has gone missing from his truck.  He finds the dog sitting on the lap of a guy who looks a bit down on his luck at the bus stop.  It turns out that this man, Haruhiko Gyoten (Ryuhei Matsuda), went to school together with Tada, and that Tada had been responsible for Gyoten seriously injuring himself on a table saw during shop class.

Gyoten uses this old injury to guilt Tada into letting him crash at his place for the night.  One night turns into several days, and before long Gyoten is a permanent fixture at the benri-ya tagging along on jobs as Tada’s semi-reluctant assistant.  Although he seems like a deadbeat, there are many clues that Gyoten too may have once had a regular job.  He chastises Tada for not marketing himself properly and wonders why Tada, who seemed to have a promising future in front of him, is stuck in a dead end business.

Both men also seem determined to stay on the fringes of life, but they keep getting pulled into sticky situations due to their natural desires to help others.  They are drawn into action by a young boy called Yura (Kota Yokoyama) whose mother (Manami Honjou) has hired them to pick him up from cram school.  They start to realize that Yura’s strange behaviour is more than just insolence but is hiding the fact that someone is using him and they decide to help him get out of his predicament.  This subplot is tied up with another subplot about a “Columbian” prostitute called Lulu (Reiko Kataoka) and her fellow prostitute and house mate Haishi (Anne Suzuki) and the dodgy men in their lives.

The film is adapted from Miuri Shion’s bestselling novel of the same name which won the Naoki Sanjugo Prize in 2006.  It starts out well, and the relationship between Tada and Gyoten evolves in an interesting way.  Both Eita and Matsuda are excellent actors and the mystery surrounding their circumstances generates interest in what little plot is retained in this adaptation.  Unfortunately, the film has trouble sustaining interest and has many moments that just don't make sense at all (yes it's great to rescue a prostitute from a stalker but throwing her onto a train without belongings/money/somewhere to go/telling her friend is a bit odd to say the least).  One could argue that the directionlessness of the plot mimics the directionlessness of the two main protagonists, but the there are just too many head-scratching moments that lessen one’s enjoyment of the film.  The film’s biggest flaws are the one-dimensional female characters who would be laughable if they weren’t so disturbing.   

Director Omori Tatsushi won international acclaim for his avant-garde directorial debut The Whispering of the Gods (2005). While Tada’s Do-It-All House shows that he is quite good at getting great performances out of his male actors, the film just suffers from a problem quite prevalent in contemporary Japanese films: weak editorial decisions.  With a few nips and tucks to the second half of the film, this could have been a great star vehicle of Eita and Matsuda.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

This film screened at Nippon Connection 2012:

10 August 2012

Osaka Hamlet (大阪ハムレット, 2008)

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
- Polonius, Hamlet I,iii, 78-9

Polonius` words of farewell to his son Laertes in the first act of Hamlet sum up the moral message of director Fujirō Mitsuishi’s live action adaptation of Hiromi Morishita’s award-winning manga Osaka Hamlet.  The film intricately intertwines the coming of age stories of three brothers – Masashi, Yukio, and Hiroki Kubo beginning with the death of their deadbeat Dad.  Embarrassingly, their mother (Keiko Matsuzaka) does not appear to be in mourning at all and even more worryingly, their long lost Uncle Takanori (Ittoku Kishibe) moves into the house and tries to make himself useful.

There could not be three more unalike brothers than the Kubo boys.  The eldest, Masashi (Masahiro HIsano), is a quiet, bookish type who is inspired to boldly come out of his shell when falls head over heels for a beautiful, wayward older woman he meets by chance.  In order to get to know Yu-chan (Natsuki Kato) better, he poses as a college student and even humours her cringe-worthy father fixation.    

The middle brother, Yuki (Naoyuki Morita) is a thug who bullies others and seems to enjoy getting into violent scraps with other thugs.  When he hears that the geek of the school has called him “Hamlet” he is at first offended because another kid at the school has a hamster named "Hamlet".  Upon threatening the young man over the perceived insult, he learns about the play by Shakespeare and is actually interested enough to take his first book out from the library.  At first, he cannot comprehend the language in the play, and has another outburst when he discovers Hamlet’s unusual relationship with his mother.  The most interesting part of Yuki’s character development is how he comes to terms with Shakespeare’s text.  Another Shakespearean element to Yuki is his capacity for extreme violence which recalls some of Shakespeare’s bloodier plays (ie. Mercutio vs. Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet).

The youngest brother, Hiroki (Tomoya Otsuka), is coming to terms with the fact that he would rather be a girl.  His family is remarkably understanding – even the thug Yuki whom one could imagine harassing people for being different.  “Koki” sports an androgynous haircut and wears a pink T-shirt.  The one person he identifies with most is his Aunt Aki (Manami Honjo) who is in the hospital with cancer.  Aki is also a bit different and enjoys role play and dressing up in costumes.  Some of the more touching moments in the film come when Koki visits his aunt in the hospital.

Even Koki’s classmates are supportive of him being true to himself.  When they decide to put on a class production of Cinderella, they collectively decide that Koki would be the best to play the lead role and cast a girl in the role of the prince.  The climax of the film comes when the play is put on and poor Koki has to endure taunting from three bullies in the audience as well as bad behaviour from other parents.  This was the most uncomfortable scene in the film as the acting was over-the-top and extremely unlikely.  First of all, it is not unusual in Japanese culture for men to play female roles, and secondly, the dialogue was really unlikely.  It turned an otherwise decent film into a TV sitcom for a few scenes.
The storylines of each of the family members have one thing in common: role play.  Masahi is pretending to be older than he is and role playing the father Yu-chan never had, Yukio has carefully constructed a tough guy façade for himself, and young Hiro-kun is getting to live out his fantasy by playing Cinderella in his school play.  Even their uncle is playing at being a house husband, even though he himself is not sure he is able to fulfil that role in their family.  

The theme of role play and even the plot have much more in common with A Midsummer Night’s Dream than Hamlet.  Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Osaka Hamlet has three interlocking plots and is a kind of comedy of errors.  It’s a decent little drama with much of the credit for originality of plot going to the excellent mangaka Hiromi Morishita.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

I saw a special screening of this film hosted by Nippon Connection in Frankfurt.  It is also available on DVD:

01 August 2012

Love Suicides (信, 2009)

When love goes sour it can bring out the worst in people.  Sounds and gestures which were once held dear transform into irritations for the heart gone cold.  Edmund Yeo’s Love Suicides (2009) tells the tale of a woman (Kimmy Kiew) who has been abandoned by her husband.  She and her daughter (Arika Lee) live a quiet, simple existence near a rice paddy field in rural Malaysia. 

The daughter takes pleasure in the few things she has to play with:  she diligently practices on her  woodwind recorder or plays with a red balloon that hangs limply on the string.  Brief letters marked airmail begin arriving from the husband which mysteriously suggest that he can hear every sound the girl and her mother make:

“Dear wife, don’t let the child play the flute.  It’s too noisy.  My heart aches.”

“Dear wife, don’t send the child to school wearing shoes. It’s too noisy.  My heart aches.”

“Dear wife, don’t let the child eat from the porcelain bowl.  It’s too noisy.  My heart aches.”

Although the woman and daughter appear to be completely alone, the woman follows her husband’s instructions to the letter.  The daughter says nothing, but her words and actions suggest a growing sense of anger and resentment.  In the excerpt below, the mother is force feeding the daughter because the little girl is not allowed to eat on her own from the porcelain bowl:

There are many ways to read this short tale – the film itself being an interpretation of the even darker short story of the same name by Yasunari Kawabata.  From my perspective, it is a tale of abuse.  The quietness of the film – the excerpt above features the word of dialogue, there is no music and only a few incidental sounds (the recorder, shoes on gravel, the waves on the shore) – intensifies the tension that builds in the film.  It is a tension that leaves unspoken the at worst physically violent and at best verbally abusive relationship that must have existed for this mother to unquestioningly follow out her husband’s cold written instructions.

Cinematographer Lesly Leon Lee (vimeo) has done an inspired job shooting the film in cool colours and dark shadows.  Each sequence is beautifully framed.  The profoundest shot for me was the one of the mother lying on a tangled web of a fishing net.  It is an eloquent metaphor for the situation she finds herself in.

The original short story is one of the many gems contained in the Kawabata The Palm-of-the-Hand Stories collection translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman. Love Suicides premiered at the Festival Paris Cinéma 2009 and Yeo won Best Director for the film at the China Mobile Film Festival 2009 and the Doi Saket International Film Festival 2010.  The film was produced by Greenlight Pictures.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012


This is the second in a series of reviews of the short films of the award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo (b. Singapore, 1984).  A graduate of Murdoch University in Australia, Yeo has been based in Tokyo since 2008 when he moved there to pursue a Master’s degree at Waseda.  His films have received wide acclaim at international festivals including Cannes, Pusan, and Rotterdam.

Edmund Yeo Filmography

Chicken Rice Mystery (2008)
Love Suicides (2009)
kingyo (2009)
The White Flower (2010)
Afternoon River, Evening Sky (2010)
NOW (2010)
Inhalation (2010)
Exhalation (2010)

Fleeting Images (2008)

“Time, which changes people,
does not alter the image we have retained of them.”
- Marcel Proust

Cinema grew out of the human desire to capture the fleeting images of our lives in some kind of permanent record.  Image, time and memory were favourite themes of the recently departed filmmaker Chris Marker (1921-2012) and this short film by Edmund Yeo is an homage to Marker’s meditative, poetic documentary Sans Soleil (1983).

Like Sans Soleil, Fleeting Images is narrated by a woman who conveys her interpretation of letters she has received from a close male friend.  The letters are a poetic contemplation of the passage of time and the tenuous strands of fate that connect people of varying circumstances, times, and places together.

Instead of drawing on T.S. Eliot or Racine as Marker did in Sans Soleil, Yeo turns to Proust for inspiration.  Memory is the central theme of Proust’s great work À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, 1913–1927). Sights, sounds, and smells trigger involuntary memories from the past for the narrator and the novel was groundbreaking in its exploration of how we perceive time. 

Although Fleeting Images is only 10 minutes long, Yeo manages to capture the essence of his Proustian theme using montages of contemporary images and motifs.  The letters are sent to the female narrator (played by Nicole Tan but narrated by Tsai Yi-Ling) by email, and the life experiences of blind Indian children and elderly Tibetan refugees are contrasted with imagery of the modern streets of Tokyo.  These fleeting images haunt the letter writer as he seeks to understand the world as it is seen by others.  There is a sweet little montage of animation by Julian Kok as the letter writer wonders if the world of the blind children’s imagination could possibly be more colourful than we imagine.

The disconnect that city dwellers have with the natural world is represented in the film with great poignancy when the letter writer despairs of being completely oblivious to the setting of the sun while caught in the swelling sea of humanity flowing through the streets of Shibuya.  The setting sun becomes a motif for the passage of time and it recalled for me the Buddhist notion that impermanence and change are the undeniable truths of our existence.  For the cynical viewer, Edmund Yeo’s Fleeting Images may dip a little bit too far into sentimentality, but for such an early, experimental work by a young filmmaker I think this may be forgiven.   

Fleeting Images won the Grand Prix at the CAN CON Movie Festival in 2009 from an international jury which included film critic Chris Fujiwara and director Naomi Kawase.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

This is the first in a series of reviews of the short films of the award-winning Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo (b. Singapore, 1984).  A graduate of Murdoch University in Australia, Yeo has been based in Tokyo since 2008 when he moved there to pursue a Master’s degree at Waseda.  His films have received wide acclaim at international festivals including Cannes, Pusan, and Rotterdam.

To learn more about Edmund Yeo visit his official website.  

Edmund Yeo Filmography

Chicken Rice Mystery (2008)
Fleeting Images (2008)
kingyo (2009)
The White Flower (2010)
Afternoon River, Evening Sky (2010)
NOW (2010)
Inhalation (2010)
Exhalation (2010)


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