Launched in 2004 to promote digital cinema, the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival (July 13-21) in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, has become a showcase for emerging filmmakers. Among the Skip City alumni who have gone on to thriving careers are Cannes Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Winter Sleep”), Kazuya Shiraishi (“The Blood of Wolves”), Ryota Nakano (“Her Love Boils Bathwater”) and Shinichiro Ueda (“One Cut of the Dead”).
Ueda, who has had two films in the festival’s shorts competition, is back with this year’s opener, “Aesop’s Game.” A comedy he co-directed with Naoya Asanuma and Yuya Nakaizumi, it’s packed with twists, all supplied by Ueda, who wrote the original script. If you liked “One Cut of the Dead,” a zombie comedy with a brilliant film-within-a-film structure that earned a stupendous ¥3.2 billion, you’ll want to check out this one as well.
One standout this year is “Travel Nostalgia” by Chinese filmmaker Qinyao Wu in the International competition.
A student in the film program at Rikkyo University who came to Japan in 2015, Wu uses that romantic drama stand-by — the love triangle — in ways fresh and contemporary. The easygoing hipster proprietor of a vacation house becomes attracted to a shaggy-haired, straight-talking artist, but his campaign of seduction is derailed by the arrival of the artist’s childhood friend, a woman who is attractive, perceptive and suicidal. She is a catalyst for revealing the two men’s true feelings, as well as a sexual wild card.
In the Japan Film Feature competition is “Dream of Euglena,” Mikiya Sanada’s ensemble comedy. Unfolding during the eventful night shift of two parking inspectors, one an incorruptible straight-arrow, the other a morally flexible loser, the film introduces a procession of the ticketed, from a struggling idol singer to a snarling gangster and his burly henchman. All end up meeting in the course of the night and working out their various issues. The premise is strained, but Sanada ties up things entertainingly and satisfyingly. And his head-scratcher of a title — euglena are microorganisms with characteristics of both plants and animals — finally makes sense.
In the same section is “Sacrifice,” Taku Tsuboi’s drama centering on a college student who was in a cult as a girl and has unusual powers. Meanwhile, another student, the inquisitive Toko, suspects that one of her classmates, the sensitive loner Okita, is behind the killings of more than 30 cats around campus as well as one coed perhaps about to unmask his crimes.
The references to the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the March 11, 2011, disaster are by now over-familiar and the dialog cries out for a trim. Even so, Tsuboi mixes his murder mystery with elements paranormal and topical to strong and spooky effect.
There is much else on the program including early films by George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh and International competition jury chairman Takashi Miike. Skip City is not to be skipped.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5