Many summers ago when this writer went to Japan for the first time to research into modern Japanese cinema, he found an overwhelming feeling of aloofness. Somewhat like Britain, which has always had this tendency to call itself exclusive of the rest of Europe, Japan covertly felt that it was not part of Asia. But this thought is now being gradually demolished, and the current Tokyo International Film Festival presented an omnibus of three movies which showed how closely Japan was linked to some of the other Asian nations. Cinema being such a powerful conveyor of ideas, the festival’s effort was really laudatory.
Produced by the festival with support from the Japan Foundation, Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections had films from The Philippines, Cambodia and Japan whose characters were connected to one another. And through these characters, the movies gently prodded us to understand how important the relationships were.
Brillante Mendoza’s (a Filipino helmer whose Ma’Rosa competed at Cannes last May) Shiniuma: Dead Horse traces the life of an illegal immigrant in Japan who is deported to his native Philippines. The film was shot in Japan and The Philippines.
Japan’s Isao Yukisada gave us Pigeon (which unfolds in Penang, Malaysia) that focuses on a warm kinship between a Malaysian caregiver and an old Japanese man suffering from dementia.
Finally, the Cambodian helmer, Sotho Kulikar’s Beyond the Bridge is an arrestingly poignant romance set in Cambodia that spans three generations.
Though many festivals have in recent years taken up such omnibus ventures, this is reportedly the first time that Japan, more specifically the Tokyo International Film Festival, has embarked on a journey of this kind.
One is given to understand that in the wake of China’s phenomenal rise as a movie industry (with its aggressive co-production efforts with Hollywood and some Asian States) and South Korea’s ambitious schemes for joint projects with its neighbours, Japan is beginning to understand the usefulness of such bonding -- particularly in the climate of falling theatrical footfalls at home.
For several years now, Japan has been feeling the heat generated by Hollywood. One has seen as early as 2000 the almost insane love for all things American, including their films. While long queues greeted Hollywood blockbusters, there was an abysmally low number of takers for Japanese fare. So, it is, therefore, not surprising that Japan is now engaged in reinventing its own cinema with ideas and skills from other parts of Asia.
India still appears to be outside this little circle that Japan has created, and when this writer asked the festival’s Director-General, Yasushi Shiina, during a specially arranged meeting why Japan was no longer a favoured destination for Indian producers and directors, he was lost for an answer. “This is a question I would like to ask you,” he shot back a counter question.
In fact, once movies like Love in Tokyo (with Joy Mukherjee and Asha Parekh) were filmed extensively in Japan with songs like “Sayonara, Sayonara...”. In the late 1990s, Rajinikanth became a super hit in Japan. But somewhere along the line, India and Japan seemed to have lost sight of each other. With India being the largest film producer in the world, a relationship with Japan may be immensely useful for a healthy exchange of ideas and talent. And, Japan has a multitude of scenic spots that can be utilised by Indian cinema.
Kazumi Inami, Director of the Arts, Culture and Exchange Section of Japan Foundation’s Asia Centre, told the media that with Japan’s decreasing population, the country’s movie market and skills would start to decline.
So, it is imperative that Japan prepares for this by going in for co-production in every sense of the term. India may be a very willing partner in this journey.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Tokyo International Film Festival.)