In a year that sees an improvement in the programming, the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), which ends today, treats festival-goers with a range of new Japanese films. One of TIFF's missions seems to be the promotion of domestic cinema at a time when competition for global influence has swung towards Korean pop culture, and as the festival rounds its last corner, two new Japanese films garnered robust critical reception. These two are films people will continue to discuss in the next year.
Fumi Nikaido in Au Revoir L’Ete .
The first is The Tale Of Iya, a lyrical eco-drama by Tetsuichiro Tsuta. Shot on 35mm film _ a rare feat in the digital age _ this complexly woven film takes place in one of Japan's last unspoiled forest areas, in the town of Iya, where a tunnel is being built with the promise of connectivity. The story focuses on a teenage girl _ a Princess Mononoke-like orphan raised by a brooding old man _ and a city dropout who moves in with the two in the hope (an innocent and false one) of remaking himself as a farmer. Meanwhile, a protest against the new tunnel is led by a foreigner who runs a hippy-style commune.
Director Tetsuichiro (who converted his own house into a film-processing lab while making this picture) treads the fine line between advocating ecological conservation and the industrialised reality of his country.
Despite a brief intrusion of surrealism, the film steadfastly refrains from making nature "sacred", and the painful difficulty of co-existence of modernity and traditional lifestyles is acknowledged with heartfelt sincerity. I'm seriously thinking of including this as one of the year's best films.
Another home-grown star in TIFF comes with a more soothing quality. Au Revoir L'Ete sticks to its French label with a Gallic cinematic sensibility _ Eric Rohmer's to be precise. Fumi Nikaido plays a teenage girl who spends her summer break at a seaside town with her aunt. There among the circle of townspeople, beachside gossip, old anxieties and newly discovered feelings, the girl negotiates the tricky corners of adolescence as the adults deal with past secrets and unresolved emotions.
Produced by actress Kiki Sugino and directed by Koji Fukada, Au Revoir L'Ete is sensual in a very discreet way, like breath on your neck that you only perceive after its hot vapour has already gone. The film is heavy with dialogue, sometimes direct, but mostly pleasantly obscure, and the carefully drawn characters drive this small film with psychological precision.
Both films will stir up debate over the next few months, and while it's not clear if they will arrive in Bangkok, they're two titles to add to the list of this year's notable movies.