Japan has a rich and colourful cinematic history and produced one of the greatest directors of all time: Yasujirō Ozu. They have an animator to outstrip anyone in the West in the shape of Hayao Miyazaki and the beautiful films of Studio Ghibli. That’s without even mentioning the inimitable Akira Kurosawa. Since the turn of the century we’ve seen a high profile influx of Asia Extreme cinema from The Land of the Rising Sun, spearheaded by Takashi Miike and feathering the likes of Ringu, Battle Royale, Audition and Dark Water. There’s also been a strong vein of independent cinema including The Taste of Tea, Love Exposure, Cold Fish, Kamikaze Girls and Funky Forest.
As someone who used to buy most of his DVDs from Asia, I’m well aware of the difficulty in finding Japanese independent films in the UK. In a attempt to broaden their audience, Third Window Films set-up a Kickstarter campaign to get New Directors From Japan up and running. After being successfully funded, their first release includes one feature-length film, And the Mud Ship Sails Away by Hirobumi Watanabe. There are also three shorts: Nagisa Isogai’s My Baby and The Lust of Angels and Kosuke Takaya’s Buy Bling, Get One Free.
And the Mud Ship Sails Away is a low-key offbeat tale of Takashi (Shibukawa Kiyahiko), an intellectual hipster in his own mind, but viewed as a waster by others. When teenage Yuka (Ayasa Takahashi) turns up at their door, the docile life Takeshi enjoys at home with his grandmother is gently shaken. Hirobumi Watanabe’s debut cost less than £3000 to make and is a droll and rather tongue-in-cheek homage to Jim Jarmusch. The ending is out of the blue.
All the short films are interesting in their own way but it’s Nagisa Isogai’s The Lust of Angela which stands out. She focusses on the social problem of gropers on trains in Japan. It’s an impressive and thought-provoking film which could never have been made by a male director.
New Directors From Japan is an impressive collection which will hopefully be the first of many. It’s released on Dual Format by Third Window Films today.