All hail the Japanese Film Festival in Ireland

Delicate drama ‘Her Love Boils Bathwater’ is critics’ choice for best film

Her Love Boils Bathwater, about a young woman who, after contracting cancer, brings healing to the people around her, is the critics’ choice for best film

Her Love Boils Bathwater, about a young woman who, after contracting cancer, brings healing to the people around her, is the critics’ choice for best film

 

More than a few foreign embassies support film festivals in Ireland, but the annual Japanese Film Festival is unique in spreading itself across the whole country. Organised by the good people at access>CINEMA, the 2017 edition, which comes to a close this weekend, hosted 46 screenings of 21 films in eight locations. There were screenings in Cork, Galway, Dundalk, Sligo, Waterford, Maynooth, Limerick and Dublin.

This is just the sort of initiative that world cinemas need to increase interest beyond core audiences in the capital. The Embassy of Japan has been supporting the event for nine years and the energy has increased with every edition.

This year your current correspondent joined Tara Brady, Irish Times critic and president of the Dublin Film Critics Circle, on a jury to select the best films of the season. Kevin Fennell, Brogen Hayes, Nicola Timmins and Chris Wasser were also on the panel. We argued over a fecund selection of drama, anime, searing social commentary and off-centre comedy.

Diversity

“As always it has been a great pleasure to shine a light on the diversity in contemporary Japanese cinema and share some of that work with audiences throughout Ireland,” Maeve Cooke, director of access>CINEMA, said.

“Being able to host a jury from the Dublin Film Critics Circle at the festival for the fifth time is a real validation for the festival and the programme. There is always lots of anticipation for the results from the DFCC jury and it is very exciting to compare their choices with the audience selection.”

We selected Ryota Nakano’s lovely Her Love Boils Bathwater as best film. A touching, delicate drama somewhat in the style of Hirokazu Koreeda, the picture concerns a young woman who, after contracting cancer, brings change and healing to the people around her. The picture recently won three awards from the Japanese Film Academy and has raised the profile of a director yet to receive the acclaim he deserves outside Japan.

The award for best anime went to Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice. That film concerns a reformed bully who seeks to make amends for tormenting a deaf classmate. It swells with all the possibilities and ambitions of contemporary Japanese animation. Naotarô Endô’s Tsukiji Wonderland, a fascinating, rigorous study of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, ran away with the gong for best documentary. Tsukiji Wonderland has received raves at festivals in Seattle and San Sebastian. Its appeal is universal.

Creates buzz

The Japanese event is perfectly designed to create the kind of buzz that opens up distribution possibilities for films that might otherwise struggle outside their home markets. There is a model here that other festivals should strive to emulate.

The increasing penetration of Japanese culture to young, tech-savvy Europeans has helped nudge the door open just a crack. If anime is still a niche market here, then it is now a very large niche. But it is important that such films play in busy cinemas and that audiences get to share experiences after the credits roll. That is how art gets around. That is how culture expands.

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