Changing perceptions through Japanese film

By Вen Li

Japanese films will reel in fans to the University of Calgary this weekend as the Japanese Film Festival rolls into town once again. Both Film Studies students and the public will benefit from the screening of contemporary Japanese films at the two-day festival, put on by the Consulate-General of Japan and the University of Calgary Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies.

"They’re all fairly recent films about Japan by Japanese filmmakers," says Suzanne Trigg, Cultural Affairs Public Relations Coordinator at the Consulate-General of Japan in Edmonton. "We had a few that we looked at and put the more interesting ones in."

The festival showcases Japanese film and culture. Organizers hope the contemporary nature of the films and their relevance to youth will draw crowds.

"One of the movies, Fukai Kawa [Deep River], was written by a very famous contemporary writer, Endo Shusaku," says Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies professor Yoko Riley. "Endo Shusaku is a very unique writer, he deals with Christanity in Japan. Shusaku tries to deal with a humanity that seeks the afterlife and religious substitutes. In the movie, [Shusaku’s characters] go to India and find a totally different aspect to human life and prospects and expectations in life itself."

Riley sees rifts in both how we in the West perceive Japan through Japanese films and how Japanese films portray Japan. She hopes the festival films will provide a more accurate portrayals of Japan. Contemporary films made by the "new species," a term for younger generations of directors, are more modern and compatible with Western ideas.

"Very few Japanese movies seem to have impact on Western life because of perceived differences in civilizations and customs," says Riley. "They say the old movies lack universality. These movies are made by ‘new species,’ therefore we might see some universality that might appeal to western people."

Everyone is welcome and organizers want viewers to experience the films with open minds in hopes that themes common to the East and West such as spirituality will act as a cross-cultural bridge. Audiences can expect movies at the festival to be different from Western movies in both style and presentation.

"The telling of the story is kind of different in that there’s not always a happy ending," says Trigg. "Viewers can expect that it’s going to be a different style of film."

Besides Kei Kumani’s Fukai Kawa, the festival features two other films: Suzaku, directed by Naomi Kawase, and The Secret Garden, directed by Shinobu Yahuchi.