Fourth Annual New York Japan CineFest

By Jasmin Justo

The fourth annual New York Japan CineFest (NYJCF) screened eight Japanese independent films at Asia Society. The film festival this year highlighted emerging talent amongst the Japanese and Japanese-American filmmakers. Ranging from romance comedy to drama, each short film varied in genre and style but nonetheless had a unique approach in telling a larger story. This review covers the first day of the film screenings.

“A Warm Spell” is directed by Toshimichi Saito. The film centers around two brothers who recently lost their mother and now must reconcile despite their past disputes. When Masanobu returns home with the body of his mother, he finds that his younger brother, Naoki, has given up on his dream to be a painter to take care of the post office, their family business. At their mother’s funeral, the two brothers and a few unlikely strangers including, a young lady who is coincidentally similar to their mother, come together to bid farewell. The cinematography itself is amazing at capturing the different lighting, angle shots, and panoramas of the beautiful landscape. The director himself even said that the panorama shots were the most difficult but are the most rewarding because it’s able to capture the natural light and beauty of the village which gives the film an extra charm. As for the acting, each actor gave a sense of realism and reflected the mix feeling of angst, sadness, and togetherness that are often felt in such occasions. With slight comic relief in between, the film was able to concisely piece together the back story of the main characters without the need of flashbacks. There were some mystical parts such as when the lady disappears and reappears. All together, it is a very fulfilling short movie.

“Taidama” directed by Robin Takao D’Oench, is a film dedicated to the director’s grandfather, Paul Takagi (a WWII veteran and former internee), and Berkley Professor Emeritus. The film focuses on a Japanese American family that returns home after leaving the internment camp. The film was created on the basis of his retelling of how the director’s grandfather felt when he and his family returned to their home in the forest. Tragically, their home was ransacked with graffiti on the walls with racial slurs. Filled with rage, he begins ripping the wallpaper and even uses an ax to break the wall. His father tells him to stop when he realizes that under the wallpaper, there was the wall of his home. Torn apart, he begins crying. This scene alone is a reflection of how society imposes one image of ourselves to disguise the real self which unfortunately, not everyone can see past the disguise until one fights against it. As a short film, it is able to concisely convey the themes of home and self identity with fluid cinematography.

“Confessions Ranking of Girlfriend” is a romantic comedy sci-fi short film that takes the ordinary marriage proposal vow into a plot twist saving the world saga. Humorous and unexpected, the short film received allot of applause from the audience. Directed by Shinichiro Ueda.

“Little Kyota Errand Hood” was a sweet short film about two children who become best friends despite the girl’s protective father who worries about her health and the boy’s mother who is constantly worrying about her son growing up. In the end, the boy confronts the girl’s father and tells him that even though he means well, he’s “fathering” all wrong just like he doesn’t want to give up his old habits but knows that it’s for the best. Directed by Satsuki Okawa.

One of the noteworthy films was “Monk by Blood”. Directed by Ema Ryan Yamazaki, the film follows 21 year old Scion Sasaki and his winter holiday to visit Japan. As the first born son of the family, he has to weigh his family duty to take over the family’s Buddhist temple, which has been managed by 23 generations of the Scion’s family. The film offers the perspectives of the other family members and how they view the situation. For instance, his sister expressed her willingness to take over the shrine if he decides to pursue his dream to become a chef or professional DJ. Although it’s a documentary, it does a wonderful job in capturing their holiday reunion between the family, their perspectives on their family legacy and ultimately the juggling between traditions and the present.

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