The biggest event of its type in Japan, Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia is also the only one to submit films — the winners of its fiction and non-fiction competitions — for nomination in the Oscars’ short films category. While the festival is held in late spring, a special autumn screening will be held from Oct. 17 to 20 at the Tokyo Photographic Museum Hall in Ebisu.
Five programs will screen 25 short films, and budgets, aims and skill sets range, from the sophisticated steampunk animation and wry humor of “Widdershins” by U.K. director Simon P. Biggs to the simple but charming “Dulce,” Angello Faccini and Guille Isa’s drama about a mother in Colombia teaching her young daughter to swim.
The quality level is high, and even films in the sections backed by government or corporate entities can exhibit originality. One is “Robu,” Kai Hasson’s short in the Tokyo government’s Cinematic Tokyo Program. An American teen comes to Tokyo to search for the elusive second volume of his dad’s favorite manga and discovers that it overlaps with his own life in ways wonderful and strange.
Similar in concept is Masanao Kawajiri’s “A Japanese Boy Who Draws.” A mix of animation and live-action, the film follows the lives of two boys who become close friends though their shared love of drawing. One, Shinji, is a “genius” who wows his classmates with his manga, while the other, Masaru, is a developmentally challenged kid whose work is on the wild side.
As their stories unfold the animation subtly reflects their growing skills and changing interests, while tracking the adult Shinji’s slow, unsteady climb up the manga industry ladder with an unsparing realism. Kawajiri’s take on his struggling-artist story is fresh and inspiring.
Darker is “No One But I Know,” Daisuke Kamijo’s drama about a 14-year-old boy, Takato, who wakes up with a bloodied face and his step-father dead beside him. He tells the police the man beat him unconscious; the police tell him his mother confessed to the murder. Takato refuses to believe it. Despite its murder mystery elements, the film is more of a layered psychological portrait of a boy who is not the victimized innocent he seems.
Some of the non-Japanese films also shine. In Indian filmmaker Shazia Iqbal’s “Dying Wind in Her Hair,” a young woman ambitious to be an architect must apply to a religiously strict Muslim school for a scholarship. Her meeting with the admissions officer, who criticizes her clothes (too tight and revealing) and choice of profession (“What can a girl contribute to architecture?”), enrages her — and forces her to choose: Conform or perhaps forever give up her dream. Her answer is not immediately obvious, but rings true.
On the lighter side is Iranian director Behrang Mirzayi’s “A+.” A pudgy boy is dragooned off the street by a bossy woman to carry her groceries into her apartment and then, as she drills him with awkward personal questions, hang her curtains. Thanks and pay for his trouble are zero. His righteous revenge is sweet, smart and funny.