The 2018 blockbuster One Cut of the Dead and the works of Cannes 2018 Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Koreeda’s, headlined this year’s Japanese Film Festival in the Philippines, held in conjunction with Japan-Philippine Friendship Month in July. In its 22nd year, the Festival reported its largest ever attendance of 33,004 through 137 screenings across ten venues – four cinemas in Metro Manila and six regional cities including Cebu and Davao. 17 films screened between July 3 and August 25 include Mirai, The 8-Year Engagement, The Crimes That Bind, and The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps, as well as Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters, The Third Murder, After the Storm, and Lu Over the Wall, Kakegurui, Perfect World, Mixed Doubles, and Laughing Under the Clouds.
Samurai Marathon, starring Takeru Sato who is very popular in the Philippines, opened this year’s Festival. In keeping with the Wa (Japanese style) theme, the Opening Night presented a unique shamisen performance of Keisho Ohno who fuses Japanese traditional music and rock. At a related event, he also collaborated with the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, a resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (Mr. Obusan is the recipient of the National Artist for Dance). Their collaborative performance attracted many Filipino audiences. The shopping mall where the Festival kicked off, was brilliantly decorated in Japanese style, offering an exhibition of ukiyo-e paintings, swords, armor collections, installation of Japanese gardens, yukata wearing experiences, and demonstrations of kendo / martial arts. Local shoppers got a full Japanese cultural experience as well.
The Festival this year featured two directors: Katsumi Nojiri, director of Lying to Mom and Chong Wishing, director of Yakiniku Dragon. Nojiri’s Lying to Mom, winner of Japanese Cinema Splash Best Film Award at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival, was screened in the section of Vision in Asia of Cinemalaya, the largest independent film festival in the Philippines, which has been an affiliated film festival of the Japanese Film Festival since 2016. The 400-seat theater was almost full, and Nojiri appeared on the stage to great the audience and respond to their questions. With humor scattered everywhere while dealing with the serious theme of suicide and the suffering of the bereaved family, the film occasionally moved the audience to laughter.
The University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI), which has the largest movie theater in the Philippines, hosted director Chong and producers of Yakiniku Dragon for a Q&A session with the audience, which filled 90 percent of the 760-seat theater. Chong, a famous stage screenwriter and director, previously lectured in the Japan Foundation, Manila’s theatre workshops, and some of the workshop participants were also there among the audience. The director and producers also attended a talk and roundtable discussion for film students and film professionals at the university and talked about the current situation of film production in Japan. The students who participated were very enthusiastic, listening to opinions and firsthand information from the Japanese filmmakers on this rare occasion.
UPFI also had a special screening of the prestigious filmmaker, Koreeda’s Shoplifters. With more than 1,000 visitors, an unprecedented situation occurred with a long line reaching to the next building. Additional seats was urgently placed, which still could not accommodate all, and patrons eventually sat on the floor. UPFI staff were surprised at the extraordinary interest in the event.
A screening of The Tears of Malumpati evoked an especially poignant moment during the Festival. The film is based on a true story of a Japanese NGO and local volunteers who have overcome various hardships in the construction of water pipeline in the Pandan village of Panay Island in the Philippines. Among the audience were members of the NGO involved in the actual water pipeline project, as well as women who came all the way from Pandan village to Manila only to watch this film. During the Q&A session with executive directors and Filipino cast, some audience members expressed their appreciation with tears. Such an emotional screening.
All the venues were well attended with regional venues drawing a full house. In the regions, the Japanese Film Festival provides a rare opportunity to watch Japanese movies in commercial cinemas with free admission. Holding a film festival in regions, however, can cause unexpected troubles, such as a breakdown of a cinema projector happening this year, which forced us to suspend all screenings for a day. Fortunately, we were able to resume the screenings with another cinema the next day, but as an organizer, we have to be on our toes at all times.
This year’s Japan Film Festival offered a variety of side events throughout July and August, which kept us busy traveling around. It is not easy for us, as management staff, to be always attentive to ensure that the Festival becomes a success. However, we are delighted to have the highest recorded audience in the history of the Japanese Film Festival in the Philippines, and to know that many Filipinos enjoyed Japanese movies. Our hard work was paid off!