From its debut in 1999 as the passion project of actor Tetsuya Bessho, Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia has grown into a big event on the local and regional film calendar. Size is one reason: The 19th edition, which unspools from June 1 to 25 at six venues in Tokyo and Yokohama, features nearly 250 films in a variety of genres.
The festival’s heart, however, are its three competition sections: International, with 45 films, Asia International, with 23, and Japan, with 20. Selected from nearly 7,000 submissions, these entries compete for the Grand Prix, whose winner is eligible for an Academy Award. Last year’s Grand Prix awardee, Hungarian filmmaker Kristof Deak’s “Sing,” won the Oscar in the short film (live action) category at the 89th Academy Awards.
Among the festival’s noncompetitive sections are programs of shorts from Denmark, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as selections from the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards. (This year’s Oscar short is, not surprisingly, “Sing.”) Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia also presents programs in conjunction with sponsors, such as Lexus, with its “Road to the World” short film project, and Tiffany, with three installments of its “New Ways of Seeing” five-part video series on contemporary art being shown.
The festival’s highest-profile collaboration this year, however, is with Hiro, leader of the mega-group Exile and former president of the LDH talent agency. With Bessho and Hiro serving as producers, and with songwriter Masato Odake providing tunes, Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia and LDH joined forces to make six shorts under the banner Cinema Fighters. Directed by frequent Cannes invitee Naomi Kawase and five young up-and-coming directors, the films are more like mini-features than typical music videos.
The Japan Times recently sat down with Bessho and Hiro at the LDH office in Naka-Meguro to discuss the festival in general and Cinema Fighters in particular.
How did you become involved in this project?
Hiro: I’d known about the Short Shorts festival for some time and was a fan. Also, Mr. Bessho and I were communicating with each other through a mutual acquaintance. My main work was originally in the music and talent management business and we had a lot of artists who wanted to be actors, so I told Bessho that it might be interesting if we did something together. One thing naturally led to another.
The starting point, though, was the idea of making a type of entertainment that hadn’t existed before and developing new markets with it.
You’re both listed as producers but how did you divide up the work?
Bessho: Actually, Hiro laid the foundation by getting Mr. Odake to compose songs for the films. Then we made a presentation to (Naomi) Kawase and five young directors.
As for the division of labor, Hiro selected the music and the lyrics to go with it and then cast the actors best suited to the song. I introduced him to the directors, then he made a plan and we discussed it together. The directors also came to us with a lot of ideas, so we discovered things that way.
You are screening the films in one 94-minute package at the festival, but did you think of linking them in any way?
Hiro: We didn’t think of doing that, no. We had the directors listen to Mr. Odake’s tunes, but each song was different. The directors got inspiration from the tunes, and wrote and directed stories based on them. That’s how we made Cinema Fighters. There’s nothing linking the stories. Instead the structure and the system themselves together make for a new style. We’ve just tried to maintain that. Otherwise we let the directors direct freely. Some directors came up with stories that were really unexpected and some expressed the world of the song just as it was. We thought of Cinema Fighters as a limitless extension of the directors’ feelings and sensibilities.
Was this project a first for you?
Hiro: Yes, a first. So we now have collaboration between the Short Shorts festival brand and the Exile Tribe brand. In collaborating, our theme has been to develop new chemical reactions and nurture new markets. Mr. Bessho taught me various things as we made the films and as a result we came up with a really new style. We have also been able to reflect on various points and get some of idea of what we should do next. As we keep doing this, we’ll develop a new genre that is different from short films and music videos. We’re thinking of how to improve the brand value.
So you feel the films are truly different from music videos.
Hiro: A director listens to a tune, thinks of a story and directs it — that’s movie style — but a music video is made to match the tune. In that sense, they’re completely different.
(To Bessho): Given the festival’s large and varied line-up, it might be hard for first-timers to figure out what to see. Do you have any recommendations?
Bessho: I’d like them to see Cinema Fighters, but that’s nearly sold out. The title of the festival as a whole is Cinematic and Cinematec. The concept is that you can say things like “This is cinematic” or “This is movie-like” of the films made in the 100 years of the 20th century.
“Cinematec,” however, refers to the technology and technique aspect. By technology I mean things like 4K, drones and VR (virtual reality), but there is also technique and skills. In making Cinema Fighters, for example, we thought, “This director has such-and-such an ability in working with this actor.” I’m not referring to tools, but to the skills the director has. We want to focus on both of those aspects — the cinematic and the cinematec.
As for recommendations, we are presenting the short that won the Academy Award last year and a film nominated by the Cannes Film Festival. We also have a film by Shunji Iwai, an animation narrated by Martin Scorsese, a 1964 documentary with Catherine Deneuve and a short starring Emma Stone. We hope people see all of them.
What keeps you doing this for 19 editions?
Bessho: By doing the festival, I come into contact with new talent and new challenges. When I meet the people who make the films, even if they are not famous, I think they’re going to be making our future entertainment entertainment, our future films. I learn a lot as an actor and am stimulated to up my game. I also make new discoveries. I realize there are other ways of doing things.
Cinema Fighters program
Naomi Kawase / 14 minutes
A man journeys back to his high school days — and a girl he once liked — via a notebook.
Sense of Sentiment
A.T. (Asai Takeshi) / 15 minutes
The boy assistant to a mysterious maker of extracts that “release emotions” takes a liking to a silent, stone-faced beauty — and tries to help her smile.
Kentaro Hagiwara / 16 minutes
In the near-future a woman waits for her young lover, frozen until a cure can be found for his deadly illness. Then he wakes to find her unrecognizably old.
Under the Black Dress
Toshimichi Saito / 12 minutes
In a world where color is forbidden, a young woman sells black dresses in her shop and makes colorful clothes upstairs. An old painter learns her secret.
Shiro Tokiwa / 20 minutes
Two lovers journey separately by train toward a rendezvous point. The woman emails the man, hinting at a disturbing revelation.
Ken Ochiai / 17 minutes
On a permanently frozen Earth, a wandering guitarist sings a song about a girl he loves but cannot find. In the audience is the missing girl’s best friend. (M.S.)
Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2017 takes place at various venues in Tokyo and Yokohama from June 1 to 25. Admission is free with the exception of the Cinema Fighters World Premiere event (¥2,500), and most films will be subtitled in English and Japanese. For more details, including showtimes, visit www.shortshorts.org.