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Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia’s mini party is worth a little look

by Mark Schilling

Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, which selects a qualifying short film for the Academy Awards every year, will present its Autumn Screening from Oct. 5 to 12 at two locations in Tokyo.

The program of 36 short films in various categories features big names such as Kirsten Dunst (“The Second Bakery Attack”), action icon Sonny Chiba (“Shakespeare in Tokyo”) and the late, great Masahiko Tsugawa (“Siren”), but a joy of the festival is discovering the new talent from Japan and elsewhere in the world.

All screenings at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (Oct. 5 to 8) and Andaz Tokyo (Oct. 9 to 12) are free, though online reservations are advisable.

Those who imagine short films as plotless experiments by avant-garde auteurs or amateurish efforts by student filmmakers will have their eyes opened and minds changed by the SSFF&Asia selection, which are on the comprehensible and accomplished end of the spectrum. But their directors are also freer to push boundaries than commercial filmmakers since they do not work under the same box office constraints. They show us what is still possible, even at this late a date, within the medium of film.

One example is “Siren,” Nobuyuki Miyake’s 16-minute short about an old man (Tsugawa) who is deathly afraid of a Middle Eastern-looking neighbor in his dilapidated public housing project. The film begins from the viewpoint of the old man, who sees the neighbor as a criminal with designs on his possessions and person. As the story jumps rapidly back and forth in time, we begin to glimpse the truth, hiding in plain sight. Tsugawa, who died in August at age 78, is in top form in one of his last performances.

More conventionally heart-warming is “Shakespeare in Tokyo,” Australian director Genevieve Clay-Smith’s roughly 20-minute short about two Australian brothers — one a straight-laced investment banker and the other, Ben (Gerard O’Dwyer), a free spirit with Down syndrome — who have come to Tokyo together. Ben goes exploring alone and, with his ebullient personality, quickly befriends the locals, including a standoffish college student (Shioli Kutsuna). An accomplished artist and Shakespeare buff who recites lines from the Bard to suit any occasion, Ben destroys stereotypes with charm and ease.

More fantastic and lyrical is “The Man without a Head,” a 15-minute short by Argentine filmmaker Juan Solanas. The film follows its headless hero as he prepares for a ball in an elaborately stylized retro alternative world. First he finds a date, then he goes out to buy the perfect head — not an easy task, even with the assistance of a kindly old shopkeeper. Beginning as bizarre — think Salvador Dali animating Fred Astaire — the film becomes a piquant essay on looking beyond surface appearances to the heart — or in the hero’s case, a nimble pair of feet.

For more information, visit www.shortshorts.org/2018/autumn/en/program.