Before attending my first Yufuin Film Festival, which was held Aug. 24-28 this year, I wondered what attracted Japanese film folk — from nationally known actors to directors of zero-budget documentaries — to this town in northern Kyushu.

One obvious draw is Yufuin’s upscale ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) that, with their beautiful surroundings, refreshing hot-spring baths and scrumptious food, are close to a paradise on Earth. Movies may even seem beside the point. But for festival director Kentaro Nakaya and his loyal core of volunteer staffers, some of whom have been with him since the festival’s start in 1976, Japanese movies are an undimmed passion. “It started as a promotional event for the town,” he tells me. “We sort of taught each other as we went along.”

The selections of Japanese films over the years have been eclectic and uninfluenced by box-office earnings or major festival trends. “We argue a lot,” he says with a smile. “It’s everyone deciding, not one person dictating.”

The festival’s post-screening symposiums, which also draw fans from around the country, are another expression of this “fight it out” philosophy. Filmmakers get pointed critiques on their failings, delivered with none of the usual politesse. Some of these straight shooters, such as retired postal worker Hiroshi Ono, who opines in pungent Osaka dialect, have become minor celebrities in their own right. Yufuin has been keeping it real for 41 years. And next year I really want to go again.


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