Thursday, September 24, 2009

MWFF 2009 Overview

Once again, this year, the Montreal World Film Festival was an enjoyable experience. There was less Japanese movies available than previous years, but I must admit I found this situation rather convenient because, with two jobs (still writing for the magazine & blogs as well as working full time as assistant-librarian), my schedule was already quite full.

It is really great to have in town an International Festival for the more classical and traditional type of movies. I do enjoy as well the youthful and exciting atmosphere of the Fantasia festival, but, as I am getting older, I realize that I enjoy far more the quiet experience of a movie where the talking and the scenery are the essential parts of the plot instead of the special effects and explosive action. Unfortunately, it seems that Fantasia is getting more and more popular and, due to it's scheduling in late August and early September, the MWFF seems to attract less young viewers as we see mostly white and grey heads at the MWFF screenings. I have not seen any official attendance numbers (and there's probably a reason for that), but it really seems that the MWFF has been beaten by Fantasia. However, is it really a bad thing? After all I don't like to wait in long line, so the more quieter atmosphere around the MWFF suits me quite well. The festival has begun to get more governmental subsidies again and it was showing. There was more events and the show was running much smoothlier than the previous years.

All in all, the quality of the Japanese selection of the festival was quite good:

Be sure to share (Chanto Tsutaeru): When his father is hospitalised for a stomach cancer, Shiro's is told by the doctor that he should have himself checked too. He soon discovers that he has a cancer ever worse than his father and ends up hoping that his father would die first to save him the pain of losing his son. Shiro never really bonded with his father, who was also his physical education teacher at school, but finds himself desperate to share with him more time and affection. Shiro faces also another dilema: should he tell his fiance that he will die soon? Director Sion Sono (who had gotten us used to crazier and more violent stories) is offering here a surprisingly beautiful and subtle movie. See also our full review.
Counterfeit (Nisesatsu): The postwar era was a difficult time for most Japanese as they found themselves strapped for cash. When Shingo propose to Kageko, his old school teacher, to make counterfeit money, she is reluctant at first but eventually succumb to the tentation of giving new books to her students. He then recruits the village chief, an old soldier who used to make false Chinese money for the government, as well as the village's papermaker and photographer. Soon the entire village is part of the conspiracy, but all this cannot end well. Director Yuichi Kimura (Always: Sunset on 3rd Street) is bringing us another great postwar period movie which reflects, this time, on criminal motivation. See also our full review (link avail. soon).
Dear Doctor (Dia Dakuta): When Soma, freshly graduated from a Tokyo medical school, arrives in a remote mountain village to work as an intern, he is first bored and full of self-doubt. With time his attitude changes as he is inspired by the work of Osamu Ino, the local veteran doctor who manages to take care of the entire village by himself. However, one day, Dr. Ino disappears and, as Soma, the police and the villagers are looking for him, they realize that the doctor they loved so much is not who he said he was. Both funny and sometime sad, this excellent film uses the beautiful Japanese countryside as backdrop to reflect on the situation of rural Japan, where the population (made mostly of elderly) suffers from loneliness. They need less bureaucratic medecine (like it is practiced in the big cities hospitals) and more people to “care” for them (in all meanings of the word: provide medical support, give attention and affection). It also ask the question: is it alright to lie in order to do good?
Dear my love (60 sai no Love Letter): An anthology of three short stories based on the “Love Letters at Sixty” project that gathered over 80,000 letters “written by one spouse to another voicing unspoken appreciation for lives shared over the years.” A retired construction company executive decides to move out with a younger woman, but his wife comes to see this as a liberating experience. A couple who worked together all their life in their fish store are faced with grave health issues but find strenght in playing music of the Beatles. A widower finds, at the instigation of his daughter, a new life with a translator. Indeed, upon retirement, Japanese couples face many challenges. It's an interesting subject but I found its treatment in the movie rather ordinary and disappointing.
The Faceless dead (Kouryo-Shibounin): Misaki is an aspiring writer who works in a supermarket. Through a strange phone call she learns that someone is usurping her identity. Who would use her name and why? The identity thief is unconscious and dying at the hospital—she will die the next day without providing any answers. To Misaki's surprise she knows her from a previous job at a publishing company. A little investigating reveals that the identity of the hospital's woman had also been stolen. Obsessed by the mystery she will skip work and follow the trail left by a chestnut lucky charm to the woman real identity and uncover an incredibly tragic story of love and betrayal which will bring her back to her starting point: the supermarket. This movie has all the elements for a good thriller, but the storytelling is weak and there's a little something missing at the end that leave us on our appetite.
The Hovering blade (Samayou Yaiba): Having already lost his wife to cancer, Nagamine is devastated when his only daughter is raped and murdered by two young punks. Unfortunately, under the protection of the Japanese law, juvenile criminals cannot be prosecuted. Nagamine is infuriated by what he perceives as a gross injustice and would like nothing better than obtain retribution. He gets his chance when a sympathising policeman tips him on the boys' whereabouts and sets out to hound them desparately... The movie is a good thriller and ends in a tragic twist. It brings strong emotions, but unfortunately that kind of story—sets around the injustice of the Japanese Juvenile Act—has been done many times already.
Villon's wife (Viyon no Tsuma): Based on an Osamu Dazai's quasi-autobiographical novel written in 1947, it tells the tangled love story of a married couple. Despite being a talented novelist, Otani is a tormented, drunken man who's constantly getting in debts and unfaithful to his wife. Aware of his weakness and despressed, he will attempt to commit “double suicide” with one of his mistresses, but gets into trouble because she dies and he survives. In contrast, Sachi is a strong woman, a devoted and loyal wife who accepts Otani as he is and does her best to support him despite everything. She starts working in an izakaya (small bar also serving food) in order to pay off her husband's debts. Her cheerful beauty makes her popular and she even gets several admirers. This gives her self-confidence, and yet she stays by him when he needs her. But for how long? The film offers a superb photography and director Negishi succeeds to paint a dreamy portrait of the harsh postwar Japan. Unfortunately, the storytelling is sometime awkward and left me with a dissatisfied impression. Surprisingly, Kichitaro Negishi won the WFF 2009 Award for Best Director.

Only two of those movies (Dear Doctor and Villon's wife) were in official competition, but Villon's wife managed to get the “Best Director” award (see the full list of awards).

My busy schedule prevented me to film a video of the programmation press conference but I could at least shoot a video of the Dear Doctor screening presentation and press conference (it will be added here as soon as I can manage to edit it).

We are grateful to the festival for bringing us this good selection and hope the 2010 edition will offer even more Japanese movies. See you next year!

[More information and links will be added when possible]

[Updated 2010/08/10 with a few corrections, links and new logos for some links]

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