The Udine Far East Film Festival, Europe’s biggest festival of popular and genre films from Asia, has gone online for its 22nd edition, which runs from June 26 to July 4.
This year the festival is streaming its line-up of 46 films from eight Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong, to audiences beyond Udine in partnership with MyMovies.it, Italy’s largest movie website. Buyers of a pass will have access to the films online. Due to distribution rights issues, however, some are available only in Italy, others in Europe and still others worldwide.
The Japanese selection, including nine films in competition, a special screening of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s final masterpiece “Labyrinth of Cinema” and a four-film section dedicated to indie director Hirobumi Watanabe, is eclectic as well as the largest of any country represented. The films range from Shinobu Yaguchi’s “Dance with Me,” a musical in the Hollywood belt-it-out tradition, to Takashi Koyama’s “Colorless,” a quietly devastating study of a relationship gone wrong. Some of the films, such as “Dance with Me,” “Romance Doll” and “Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku,” have already been released in Japan, while others, such as Akiko Ohku’s whimsical female buddy comedy “My Sweet Grappa Remedies,” had their local releases postponed due to the coronavirus.
Of the Japanese films viewable worldwide, four I can enthusiastically recommend are by Hirobumi Watanabe. A personal favorite of mine since his feature debut, the 2013 slacker comedy “And the Mud Ship Sails Away,” Watanabe is a unique talent who defies conventional industry wisdom. All of the Udine selections, including his latest, the child-centered comedy “I’m Really Good,” were shot in black-and-white in his native Otawara, a city in Tochigi Prefecture. Watanabe appears in all the films as an actor, while his younger brother, Yuji Watanabe, has supplied the films’ scores, though the band Triple Fire can also be heard on the 2018 drama, “Life Finds a Way.”
Sharp observational comedy, including Watanabe’s own stream-of-consciousness monologues, is balanced by what might be called visual poetry of the everyday, such as the camera in “Cry” (2019) following a silent worker (Watanabe) in a pig barn on his daily round with formal rigor and stark, unexpected beauty.
Also streaming worldwide are “A Beloved Wife,” Shin Adachi’s semi-autobiographical comedy about a wimpy scriptwriter and his justly fed-up wife, “Minori, on the Brink,” Ryutaro Ninomiya’s drama about a fierce-but-conflicted young woman who can scorch obnoxious guys with her eyes and “#Handball Strive,” Daigo Matsui’s comedy about a teenaged boy who hustles his way to internet fame — and shame.
So even if the summer heat and COVID-19 concerns are keeping you home, some of the best new Japanese films from Udine are at your fingertips. One hint: They go down better with a little grappa.
For more information on the Udine Far East Film Festival’s full line-up, visit www.fareastfilm.com/eng/start.