Covering a film festival can turn anyone into a stickler for scheduling. Key screenings and Q&A sessions always seem to overlap and priorities collide. Do you stick with the stodgy Japanese biopic that you’re supposed to be writing about, or sneak out halfway through to go watch something more entertaining? Is it wrong to skip that new Frederick Wiseman documentary simply because it’s three hours long?
Time preoccupied a number of the features showing at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, which wraps up on Saturday. In multiple movies, on-screen text kept viewers abreast of the day, date and even the exact hour when the action is occurring — as if the film itself was continually glancing at the clock on its iPhone.
Some of the better films enjoyed tinkering with chronologies or forcing the audience to recalibrate their own internal clocks.
Rikiya Imaizumi’s “Shiranai Futari” (“Their Distance”), a so-so romantic comedy with a mixture of Japanese and Korean dialogue, gets considerably more interesting when it pulls an about-face during its opening third, replaying a series of events from the perspectives of different characters. Hong Sang-soo’s drama “Right Now, Wrong Then” goes further, depicting two alternative versions of a tryst between a film director and a young artist — though, honestly, the story isn’t much improved through retelling.
Centuries of history are smashed together in Filipino director Kidlat Tahimik’s “BalikBayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III.5 (Working Title, 1979-2015).” This rich, rambling journey through revisionist narratives and reincarnation is based around the story of Enrique of Malacca, the Malay-speaking slave who accompanied Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on his expedition around the world.
Tahimik originally set out in the 1970s to make a film about Enrique, claiming him as a son of the Philippines and arguing that he was actually the first person to circumnavigate the globe. The project was never completed, but “BalikBayan #1” repurposes much of the old footage, interweaving it with contemporary scenes that feature many of the same actors. It’s genuinely psychedelic, like what you’d get if Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make a history documentary.
Time slows to a crawl in Veiko Ounpuu’s “Roukli” and Koji Fukada’s “Sayonara,” where the characters are stuck in limbo, waiting for the end to come. In “Roukli,” the drama unfurls against the background rumble of encroaching war, represented by distant explosions and low-flying jets. The setup is intriguing, but the film’s indigestible blend of portentous visuals, aimless philosophical discussions and religious symbolism had me wishing that Armageddon would arrive a little sooner.
“Sayonara” takes place in a near-future Japan that has been rendered uninhabitable by a series of explosions at nuclear power plants. As the country is steadily evacuated, a South African refugee stuck at the back of the queue spends her days with an android helper, who soothes her with poetry as she slowly fades away. The film summons moments of mournful beauty, though it might have worked better as a short: Fukada’s additions to the source material, a one-act play by Oriza Hirata, often unnecessarily clutter the story.
One of the most divisive films so far has been “7Days,” the sophomore feature from sibling filmmakers Hirobumi and Yuji Watanabe. Viewers who warmed to the brothers’ insouciant 2013 debut, “And the Mud Ship Sails Away…,” will probably be appalled at the direction they’ve taken here. The new film is a dialogue-free “slow cinema” exercise that rivals the glacial pacing of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr.
“7Days” documents a week in the life of a burly dairy farm worker, played by director Hirobumi, who lives with his superannuated grandmother. After a day’s worth of quotidian details on “Monday,” the action moves on to “Tuesday,” and we get an almost exact shot-by-shot remake of the previous day. If you can slow your pulse sufficiently, the film’s distinctive texture and transcendental tedium yield some rewards, though the experience proved too much for most of the people at the screening I attended.
There’s a different kind of pacing at play in Sebastian Schipper’s audacious “Victoria,” which unravels in a single continuous shot that lasts well over two hours. Unlike the post-production trickery employed in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” this Berlin-set thriller was actually filmed in one take, and the effect is startling. (Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s name appears first in the end credits, which is exactly where it should be.)
For audiences weaned on “24,” there’s nothing novel about a drama ostensibly occurring in real-time, but seeing it executed like this gives a film a special kind of immediacy. The uneventful first hour of “Victoria” lays important emotional groundwork for the ensuing events, but it also has the effect of adjusting viewers to the tempo of the protagonists’ lives. By the time the drama arrives, you aren’t just watching any more, you’re living it.
For more information, visit 2015.tiff-jp.net/en.
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