Short Shorts festival entries give Japan a starring role

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

From “You Only Live Twice” (1967) to “Black Rain” (1989) and “Lost in Translation” (2003), directors who choose Japan as a filming location are often well-rewarded with beautiful backdrops. The local flavor that works its way into a movie can sometimes be as important as the characters or plot.

Along with celebrating short film as its own distinct form of cinema, the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia allows plenty of opportunities to let Japan shine via the lens of filmmakers from here and around the world.

Mayu Nakamura sets her film, “The Devil in the Afternoon,” in a Yokohama park to emphasize “something uneasy going on under the facade of a happy, middle-class family.” This “bourgeois environment” adds to the unsettling atmosphere as the characters’ personal tragedies and fears are exposed.

Tokyo, on the other hand, plays a very different role in Australian filmmaker Genevieve Clay-Smith’s “Shakespeare in Tokyo.” In a piece that centers on Gerard O’Dwyer, a young Australian artist with Down syndrome, the audience sees the overwhelming metropolis with a sense of wonder and adventure.

The Japanese capital is also at the heart of a film festival project called the Tokyo Cinema Ensemble. Filmmakers competing in the festival are given a soundtrack, a theme and some locations in Tokyo in which to set an approximately one-minute short and, in the end, their work is put together like an ode to the city.

Director Jeanette Aw spoke highly of how the Tokyo Cinema Ensemble project allowed her to experience the city in a new way.

“It’s really like a blank canvas,” she says. “It’s all about how I want to present (Tokyo) in my own style with the music given to me. It’s very fresh and very new.”

Marianne Farley, who also participated in the project, agrees it allowed her to appreciate Tokyo’s beauty.

“I was so moved by everything there, the pop culture is so strong … then you have a more traditional Japan that has a Zen calmness,” she says with a laugh. “I felt at home.”