Rainbow Reel film festival celebrates the struggles and the victories of the LGBTQ community

by

Special To The Japan Times

You officially become an adult at the age of 20 in Japan, but you don’t really start feeling it until your mid-20s. That’s when the pressures of work and marriage start kicking in, making it as good a time as any to re-evaluate.

The 26th Rainbow Reel Tokyo film festival went through similar introspection after it turned 25, and concluded a name change was in order. Gone is the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival moniker, now it’s Rainbow Reel Tokyo.

“We think the festival had come to a point where the emphasis could shift from sexuality to diversity,” Rainbow Reel spokesperson Yasushi Higuchi tells The Japan Times. “We’re hoping that more people will come this year because it looks like a lot of fun, or they know someone who’s LGBTQ and they might be curious. That’s because being LGBTQ is not about being different or unable to relate to society. In fact, there are more similarities than differences.”

The film festival launched in 1992 in a conference room that could hardly fit 30 people in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward. This year’s Rainbow Reel begins July 8 and runs over a week till July 17. It takes place at two prime venues in the capital: Cinemart Shinjuku (July 8-14) and the Spiral Building in Minami-Aoyama (July 14-17). Organizers expect a crowd of more than 5,000.

“Japan is often perceived as being very sympathetic when it comes to the LGBTQ community because of its pop culture,” Higuchi says. “In real life, however, LGBTQ people still face a lot of systemic discrimination, particularly when it comes to finding full-time employment at a major corporation or living with their partner. Same sex marriage is also still not happening.”

Higuchi adds that, because of this systemic discrimination, a lot of people who identify as LGBTQ continue to live in the closet. There is still hope, however.

“The term ‘LGBTQ’ has sunk into the public consciousness,” he says. “We get invitations from overseas film festivals and are now attracting a lot of attention from abroad. All this means we’ve taken a huge step forward.”

In terms of filmmaking, Higuchi says LGBTQ themes have cropped up in Japanese movies over the years “without it being the central focus.”

“In my mind, one director stands out in terms of supporting the LGBTQ community with his works, and that is Ryosuke Hashiguchi,” he says. Hashiguchi is best known for his breakout, “Slight Fever of a 20-year-old” (“Hatachi no Binetsu,” 1993), which is about young gay lovers and is widely acknowledged as the film that helped open the doors to LGBTQ storylines. His most recent movie is “Three Stories of Love” (“Koibitotachi,” 2015), in which he examines many varieties of amorous relationships.

“I hope we’ll see more stories like the ones Hashiguchi-san likes to tell,” Higuchi says. “LGBTQ themes shouldn’t be isolated (into their own genre). Many of the stories have universal relevance and appeal, and we’re hoping Rainbow Reel will get to showcase the best of them.”

Of the 13 titles — and 12 short films from the Asia Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance and Rainbow Reel competition — being shown at this year’s festival, Higuchi has his eye on “Fathers,” a Thai film about a gay couple who adopts a young boy.

“This is inspiring since many gay couples can only dream of having kids,” Higuchi says. “I thought having children was an impossibility in Japan for LGBTQ people until this year, when the Osaka municipal government appointed a gay couple as foster parents.”

In April, a couple in their 30s and 40s were granted guardianship over a teenage boy they had been caring for since February.

“It was a riveting, celebratory moment for the LGBTQ community. It was like, finally we’ve come this far,” Higuchi says, adding that the decision to focus on the child’s well-being and not the sexual orientation of his foster parents was a logical one.

“Socially, there are still many problems to resolve and the subject is still hugely controversial. But, if I’m allowed a little idealism, I would say that if the child is given a stable home environment and is happy, then it really doesn’t matter if the parents are of the same gender,” he continues. “Overseas, there are documentaries about adoption among LGBTQ couples, and the whole thing is open to discussion. We also get to hear the kids’ side in those stories and it’s wonderful that everyone can be so open about it.”

Being open to things is a key theme that runs through Rainbow Reel. “I Am What I Am: Over the Rainbow” (“Watashi wa Watashi”) is a documentary by Genki Masuda that gathers 41 voices from Japan’s LGBTQ community in a series of interviews conducted by actress and co-producer Chizuru Azuma. The subjects range from well-known personalities such as Haruna Ai and Peter, to regular people who have just come out or are torn as to whether or not they want to go public. They all discuss the ups and downs of trying to live their lives in the open and as normally as possible in Japanese society. Especially poignant is the story of gay publisher Hiroshi Hasegawa who was diagnosed as being HIV positive and continues to work to support other people with the disease all while battling his own acute depression.

“Japan still has a long way to go,” Higuchi admits, “but at least the flame still burns a little brighter every year.”

The 26th Rainbow Reel Tokyo film festival takes place from July 8 to 17 at Cinemart Shinjuku and Spiral Hall in Tokyo. Tickets are available via Ticket Pia and at the festival’s ticket booths. All non-English language films will have English subtitles. For more information, visit www.rainbowreeltokyo.com.

Definite must-sees at this year’s festival

While Rainbow Reel Tokyo film festival promises a great selection of LGBTQ films — including several that are Japan premieres — here are four titles that you definitely won’t want to miss:

‘Fathers’ (2016)
Thailand; 96 min.; Thai
Some people believe Thailand is a haven for the LGBTQ community, but circumstances in the Golden Kingdom are rather similar to those in Japan. Same-sex couples have little legal protection, marriage is banned and adoption by those in the LGBTQ community is rare.

In Palatpol Mingpornpichit’s “Fathers,” gay partners Phoon and Yuke adopt a young boy and the trio live in bliss — until the child gets into trouble at school and his biological mom shows up. In the end, the film shows us that same sex parenting is pretty much the same as the more traditional model — it all boils down to love and learning to let go.

‘Below Her Mouth’ (2016)
Canada; 92 min.; English
The buzz is that everything about this film is red hot, perhaps even putting Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” to shame. Directed by Canada’s April Mullen and featuring Swedish actress Erika Linder, the story follows a casual weekend affair between the masterful Dallas (Linder) and straight-girl Jasmine (Natalie Krill) as it builds into a tower of passion.

The problem is that Jasmine had been planning a wedding with her fiance Rile (Sebastian Pigott) and now the idea of walking down the aisle in a white dress seems to make no sense. Prepare to be enthralled, then scalded.

‘Signature Move’ (2017)
USA; 82 min.; English
In this Jennifer Reeder film, Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) has two strikes against her in right-wing America: she’s a Muslim from Pakistan and she’s a lesbian. Zaynab is also caring for her recently widowed mother in a crappy Chicago apartment. Life for Zaynab looks pretty bleak, until she meets and falls hard for Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Mexican woman obsessed with lucha libre wrestling. Zaynab takes up the sport as well, despite her mother’s insistence that she find a nice husband to settle down with.

‘A Date For Mad Mary’ (2016)
Ireland; 82 min.; English
Hilarious with twinges of pain and sadness, this is the story of Mad Mary (Seana Kerslake), who in a parallel universe could be Al Pacino from his “Scarface” days. As it is, Mary is a modern-day Irish girl who goes home after a prison stint and finds it hard to fit back into society — not that she was ever good at it in the first place. Making matters worse, her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) announces her upcoming wedding and appoints Mary the maid of honor. Darren Thornton directs a wonderfully funny and engaging film.