On Friday 27 October 2017, the Japan Foundation Asia Center and the Tokyo International Film Festival held an event as part of these organisations’ activities for Asia-focused film interaction titled the “Asia Networking Reception,” aiming to create a movie-related network within Asia. Approximately 350 representatives of the film industry, media, and film buyers from 27 countries – mostly in Asia – gathered together to share their cultures through film.
We asked some of the celebrities in attendance about their own country’s film industries, and their take on Japanese cinema.
― Is there anything about Indonesian films that is unique to Indonesia?
I think that films from countries with advanced movie industries, including Japan, already have their own particular “form”, but Indonesian films are still developing, in every sense of the word. If film makers try to capture what is actually happening in Indonesia today, the movie inevitably ends up based in everyday life, showing the lives of the middle class or of low income earners. When I saw Miko Girl at the Tokyo International Film Festival, I felt that it was something we could really relate to in Indonesia, despite the different filming techniques we use.
― How did you enjoy the Tokyo International Film Festival?
Coming to Tokyo gives me the chance to see the differences in how Japan and Indonesia have developed. I have been to Tokyo several times before and I really love it here. I also participated in the Busan International Film Festival (South Korea) the other day, and I was bragging to the people there about how my film will be shown in Tokyo. That’s how highly I think of this festival.
― Would you like to work on a Japanese film if you had the opportunity?
Absolutely. I’m currently working on an omnibus horror film with female directors from six countries – Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Personally I don’t feel like I want to stick to my role as an actor; I also write scripts, I make YouTube videos, and do journalism as well. I want to challenge myself by taking part in many different activities – I would like to do everything that I am able to do.
― Is this the first time you’ve participated in the Tokyo International Film Festival?
It’s my third time. The film we showed at the festival this year Yasmin-san is a documentary tracing the life of film director Yasmin Ahmad, who passed away in 2009. Japanese director Isao Yukisada, who stars in the film as himself, was very good friends with Yasmin Ahmad. I wasn’t able to join the Tokyo International Film Festival during the time they were friends. I participated last year as part of the omnibus film series project Reflections: Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016, which was directed by three Asian directors.
― How did you enjoy the festival this year?
I’ve had a great time. I always look forward to these occasions because they give me the chance to mingle with people from Southeast Asia’s film industries. We get to watch each other’s movies and talk to each other, and we all have such a wonderful time.
― Do you have a favourite Japanese film?
Welcome Back Mr. McDonald. It’s such a funny film. It stars Ken Watanabe, back in his early days. It’s not just an entertaining film, there are also a lot of scenes that pull on your heart strings. It’s the story of a recording studio where they broadcast a radio play. The characters all function so well – one is very serious, one is quirky, one is a really good singer. I had often heard that Japanese people are serious and don’t smile or laugh much, but I realised this was not true when I saw this film. It also helped me learn about Japanese culture. Watching films from other countries can show you that the stereotypes you have of that country are wrong.
Another Japanese film that left a lasting impression on me is Departures. It made me feel that Japanese people maintain a good balance of happiness and sadness. In life there will be good times and there will be bad times. You know, you can’t expect every meal you eat to be spicy. You need to keep a balance in your heart, to be true to your natural self, in order to be happy. This film taught me that. Malaysian people tend to like the extremities – really flashy things, very spicy food. So I feel grateful to Japan and the Japanese people for teaching me the importance of just being natural.
― Would you like to work in the Japanese film industry in the future?
I would love to. I have worked with a Japanese director on an independent film before.
― Do you have a favourite Japanese film director?
Yes, Sion Sono. I love his film Guilty of Romance. The script is great, and Miki Mizuno is just wonderful in it.
― What do you like about Japanese movies?
I like the way that they give you a glimpse into Japanese culture and style, and personally I like the stories they tell. They have a lot of twists in their plots, and unexpected happenings. This makes them very fun to watch. I really like Battle Royale, for example. It has such an interesting script.
― What are you hopes for your future career?
I hope to work around the globe, not just in Myanmar and Japan. I would like to try working in many different countries. Myanmar is still a developing nation so it may be difficult to make this a reality, but I believe that by coming to Japan this time I have taken the first step.
Eric Ong／Film director／Malaysia
― What do you think characterises a Japanese movie?
Gautaman: I think the progression of Japanese film plots is unique. A lot of movies around the world are influenced by Hollywood, but I think Japanese films – in particular the ones directed by famous directors – have a very modern way of unfolding their stories, which is different to the flow you see in other movies.
Eric: I’ve seen a lot of Akira Kurosawa’s films. To me, Japanese films are very intriguing, as they portray Japanese people and aspects of their culture and beliefs. In Departures, for example, we see how Japanese people deal with death and funerals, what kind of emotions they feel during such times, the words they say, and the philosophies of the characters. I was really touched by that film. Also, on the plane on the way here to the Tokyo International Film Festival I watched Let Me Eat Your Pancreas. It was a wonderful film, and I really felt the love, humanity, and emotions of it.
Sangeetha: For people of my generation in Malaysia, we have grown up believing that “movies exist because of their words”. But when I watched the Japanese film Ju-On, I was so terrified I wanted to run out of the room, even though I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. It made me realise that this expression doesn’t apply to Japanese films. Ju-On was a particularly significant film in breaking down the barriers to foreign language films. I love Japanese films and I love the Japanese culture. Japanese films are very different to Indian films, but they have a strong sense of realism to them.
― Indian films have their own strong characteristics.
Gautaman: Indian films portray a very rich expression of emotions, and they are extremely dramatic. They are in strong contrast to the more quiet Japanese films. The soundtracks are given high priority in Indian films, because Indian people love music. Music is always a big part of our lives; music is with us at weddings, birthday parties, and even when confronted with death.
― I’ve heard that Indian people learn the songs on the soundtrack before going to watch a movie.
Gautaman: Booklets with the movie’s songs are sold outside the cinema. In the olden days people use to buy these song books, but these days people just get them online. Music is really an indispensable element of Indian cinema.
― How have you enjoyed participating in the Tokyo International Film Festival?
I’m having a fantastic time. It’s not my first time here. It has been a really meaningful experience for me personally as well.
― What do you think characterises a Japanese movie?
I was influenced by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Seijun Suzuki, and Takeshi Kitano. They pay such attention to fine details and spaces. Japanese films often feature silence, and unique characters reflective of the country’s culture. The backbone of my career is art, so I’m very interested in the correlation in the use of artistic spaces.
― Do you have any goals for your future that involve Japan?
I’m actually hoping to shoot my third film in Japan. I’ve already been in contact with several Japanese actors about it.
Having started in 2014, this event is now in its fourth year. This forum for many different people in the film industries across Asia to deepen their mutual understanding is a great opportunity for further development of film culture.