Monday, August 5, 2013

2013 Sacramento Japanese Film Festival

I went to the 2013 Sacramento Japanese Film Festival (SJFF) on July 12 & 13 at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.  The festival continued on July 14 (Sunday) but I skipped that day as I had seen the first film (Key of Life) and would have to stick around until 4:00 PM to see Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.  I also skipped 13 Assassins which played at 8 PM on July 13 because I had also already seen it.  If the 8 PM show had been something different, I may have stuck around to see the midnight screening of Shaun of the Dead presented by Trash Film Orgy which was also screening at the Crest.  As it was, I went to the hotel gym and then had dinner.

I always seek out restaurants near the theaters I frequent.  Near the Castro Theater is Orphan Andy's.  For many years, it was my "go to" place for a bite before & after a show at the Castro but the service has gone down in my opinion so I've been going to Dinosaurs, Sliders, Pica Pica and Super Duper.  Near the PFA is Moccacino Cafe and the Asian Ghetto restaurants or sometimes Top Dog and Bongo Burger on Center Street closer to the BART station.  The latter two restaurants will be directly across the new PFA location when it opens in 2016.  I like Truly Mediterranean near the Roxie.  I could continue listing restaurants for each of the theaters I frequent regularly.

The area around the Crest is pretty deserted on Friday and Saturday nights.  Sacramento's downtown empties out after work.  There are a few dance/night clubs nearby but not many place to get an evening meal.  The SJFF schedule and my previous exploration of Downtown/Midtown Sacramento led me to two restaurants.  I went to the Squeeze Inn at 1630 K Street for brunch on Saturday.  The Squeezeburger with cheese had been recommended because of the "cheese skirt."  Essentially, they melt the square American cheese slices on the grill and form a cheese skirt which is larger than the burger bun.  It's mildly amusing to chip away the melted cheese but frankly I thought the experience and the food was overrated.

Much more appealing to me was Petra Greek at 1122 16th Street (between K & L) which has the added benefit of being open until 3 AM on Saturday & Sunday mornings.  If you know your geography, you know Petra is an ancient city in Jordan known for the red & pink hues of the architecture which was carved out of the mountainside.  If you know your history, you know Petra was populated and influenced by many different civilizations including Greek.  Getting back to the restaurant, I can recommend the Pork Souvlaki Plate and Loukaniko Plate.  The rice pilaf was particularly flavorful.  I bought a couple side orders to take home.

Back to the festival.  The SJFF founder/director Barbara Kado announced that the opening night film (Haru's Journey) had set an attendance record for the festival.  I thought the screenings were well attended.  There seemed to be more people per screening than the Sacramento French Film Festival (SFFF) but the had more screenings than the SJFF.

The SJFF had an "Andy Hardy puts on a film festival" feel to it.  The SJFF is affiliated with the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church.  Kado made announcements before each film and she repeated that a) five or six people were charged $5 too much for their festival passes ($35 was the correct price) and that they should contact her to get their refund and b) ways to avoid the parking garage fees because there was some sort of event in a nearby park and the garages were not honoring the Crest's parking validation (the secret is to enter before 6 PM or park at one of the garages farther away which honored the validation!).  In addition, there was a table in the lobby selling handmade greeting cards.  I know they were handmade because a group of volunteers were making them at an adjacent table.  

The audience at the SJFF skewed older than most festivals I attend and looked to be some Nisei but mostly Sansei generation.  For those not familiar with those terms or their corresponding age ranges, I put the audience members to be mostly 55 and up.  That doesn't seem so old to me anymore...


I saw four films at the SJFF.

Haru's Journey starring Tatsuya Nakadai & Eri Tokunaga; directed by Masahiro Kobayashi; Japanese with subtitles; (2010)
Every Night Dreams starring Sumiko Kurishima & Tatsuo Saitô; directed by Mikio Naruse; silent with intertitles; (1933)
A Letter to Momo; anime; directed by Hiroyuki Okiura; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Knot starring Mukku Akazawa & Junichi  Kawamoto; directed by Yuichi Onuma; Japanese with subtitles; (2010)

Haru's Journey was screened with a beat up 35 mm print.  Everything else was digital.  Every Night Dreams had a recorded soundtrack; i.e. no live accompaniment.  No short films accompanied any of the features.

Tatsuya Nakadai, who made films with Kurosawa and Mifune, is still making films.  Since Haru's Journey, he has continued working.  At the age of 80, he is probably the most well known Japanese movie actor outside of Japan.  In Haru's Journey, he plays Tadao Nakai opposite Eri Tokunaga as Haru Nakai.  Tadao is Haru's grandfather and they live together but when Haru is laid off from work in their small fishing village, she suggest her grandfather try finding other living arrangements while she ventures to Tokyo for work.  Enraged, Tadao sets off (with Haru in tow) to visit his estranged siblings to see if any will take them in.  Along the way, we glimpse the family dynamics between grandfather and granddaughter but also between Tadao and his siblings which have long been strained.  We also glimpse human frailty and failings as Tadao is far from wise or selfless.  Haru is still dealing with her mother's suicide and father's abandonment.  Ultimately, the film become one of self-discovery; particularly for Haru when they take a detour and visit her father.  Largely lacking the mawkishness which afflicts so many American films, Haru's Journey had a bittersweet quality which elevated it to something above average.  Kin Sugai as Tadao's older sister stood out among the supporting cast.  It was my favorite film of the festival.

Every Night Dreams (aka Each Night I Dream, aka Yogoto no yume) tackles some familiar themes for director Mikio Naruse - long suffering women dealing to abusive husbands and tragedy.  In this case, Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) is a bargirl with a young son at home.  Eeking out a hardscrabble existence, Omitsu life is upended when her deadbeat husband Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saitô) shows up looking to reunite with his family.  Omitsu is initially weary but is slowly worn down.  Not exactly abusive but more beaten down by life, Mizuhara can't get break, not that he necessarily deserves one.  When their son is hit by a car, Mizuhara finds redemption and ruin in his attempt to get money to pay for the boy's necessary operation.  Unabashedly melodramatic, Every Night Dreams didn't quite live up to my expectations.

I've never been a fan of anime and A Letter to Momo won't change my mind.  The story of a girl (the eponymous Momo) whose life takes a tough turn.  Her father dies at sea and her mother relocates them to the small town she grew up in.  Momo final conversation with her father was an argument and she carries guilt around because of it.  She finds a unfinished letter from her father to her and she is haunted by the words he never wrote.  This is ripe setup to tell a story of Momo dealing with her grief and adapting to new surroundings.   This is broached but these damned imps or spirits show up.  Only Momo can see them and they seem to have ulterior motives.  More of a nuisance and mischievous than downright, the three imps cause Momo endless trouble and embarrassment.  By the end, the barrier between her imagination and the real-world is breached and the audience is left to wonder if the creatures were real or a figment of Momo's imagination.  Some (most?) people wouldn't be upset by this but it took the story in the wrong direction for my tastes.

The Knot was an ambitious film seemingly film on a small budget.  Mukku Akazawa is Ayako, a housewife whose husband is slightly indifferent towards her and senile father-in-law is abusive towards her.  When she takes her blood-stained blouse to an establishment with a reputation for working miracles on stains, she discovers the dry cleaner is Keisuke (Junichi Kawamoto), her former junior high teacher and lover.  The film doesn't reveal that immediately.  Instead, it seems like there is a simmering attraction between them and their hesitancy is due to the fact they are both married.  Eventually, they re-consummate their relationship but that only stirs up conflicted feelings.  Keisuke had to leave his position and Ayako had to move away.  Their forbidden love cost them both quite a bit a decade and half ago and neither is completely willing to leave their spouse although Keisuke definitely gives the impression that he married on the rebound.   Sô Hirosawa shines as Keisuke loving wife who slowly realizes her husband's past threaten her marriage but her lack of self-esteem and/or love for Keisuke keeps her from walking out on him.  Director Yuichi Onuma does a nice job of eliciting sympathy for Keisuke who is essentially a pedophile (if not convicted) and giving Ayako some sharp edges which one would expect from a woman who has gone though her situation.  The Knot deals with a complex situation without resorting to banality.  It is a worthwhile film.

In past years, San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) has conflicted with the SJFF.  I'm not sure why this year the two festivals did not conflict.  With the SFSFF's calendar change (May 29 - June 1, 2014), July will now be free for me to venture to Sacramento.

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