Atsuya Uki (2009)
Although only in its 4th edition the Sapporo International Short Film Festival has quickly become the most important short film festival in Japan, screening works by the most talented short film directors around the world as well as promoting national and local ones. Thus in 2008, Tsuki Inoue's short film THE WOMAN WHO IS BEATING THE EARTH, winner of the also Hokkaido based Yubari Film Festival the same year, was awarded with the Best National Short Special Mention. Inoue is being heralded as one of the most promising directors of thecurrent independent Japanese cinema, and both prizes have helped her produced her first feature film, FUWAKU NO ADAGIO.
Regarding this year's Japanese programme, we can discern two major themes running through the majority of the works, namely ecology and family conflicts. Some of the shortest works belong to the first area. 2D animation FROG SEED (Dino Sato), for example, tracks down the tragic trip of a frog from its home deep in the jungle to the dirty canals of the big city, and its consequent revenge on urbanization. ROUNDTRIP (Yukiko Takahashi), on the other hand, takes a full circle journey that starts inside a train carriage. THE SONG OF THE RED FOREST, local production by Akihito Izuhara, features two fox-like fortune tellers singing a traditional folk song. And Sho Kataoka's live short film 28 disguises as a horror film to alert us to the perils of global warming by showing the difficulties of a young woman to keep her air-conditioner under 28 degrees while sensing a "foreign" presence in her bedroom.
Returning to non-live action works, TSUKUMO NO KIMUCHI is an extraordinary graduation project by Hideki Miyazaki, who fills the screen with images of surreal perspectives and human-like insects and fish. Surrealism, mythology and lack of communication between a father and his son make up the story for KUDAN, a fascinating and disturbing short, which sees the father transformed into a Kudan, a mythological Japanese creature of a cow with a human head, while trying to save his son's life and his own from a menacing scissors-yielding monster in the middle of painter Salvador Dali-inspired landscapes. This, along with CENCOROLL, another local production, is perhaps the most accomplished anime in the Japanese section. Something of a cult internet phenomenon, CENCOROLL is an achievement in every sense as Hokkaido University graduate Atsuya Uki single-handedly wrote, designed and animated his award winning manga of the same title. Fans of Katsuhiro Otomo will be deeply satisfied with this tale of a high school girl who befriends a boy and his monster, able to transform itself into anything, who try to protect the city of Sapporo against another boy and his monster pet, and will surely leave the audience wanting to see more.
Yusuke Tabuki (2009)
Family conflicts arise in POTATO MAYONNAISE, again a Sapporo production by veteran director Eiji Shimada, when a young girl's personal desires of serving as an international aid volunteer clashes with her mother's wishes for her to remain at home and help her parents with the running of their bakery. Also exploring family problems in a more dramatic fashion is RAPUNZEL (Masakazu Kaneko), a chilling and ironic retake on the story by the Grimm brothers, where a mother keeps her beautiful daughter in captivity and uses her as a human-mirror, their life being interrupted by the appearance, not of a prince, but an officer from the family registry department. FERRIS WHEEL AT 3:03:15 PM confirms Hiroyuki Nakano, perhaps the most well-known Japanese director in the mix, masterful use of the chiaroscuro by having actor Tomorowo Taguchi, of TETSUO's fame, starred as an unemployed family man on his final ride on a ferris wheel where he will have an unexpected encounter. This work is, in fact, part of a collection of shorts, OTOKOTACHI NO UTA, which includes FUJI AND DONUGHTS, also screened at SISFF. This comedy produced by Nakanohimself and directed by Yasuhisa Serizawa, features TV talent Lou Oshiba in the only role as a golf enthusiast, who regardless of an excruciating hemorrhoids and an untimely diarrhea, still takes on a trip to play golf at the foot of Mount Fuji.
Masaya Kakehi, best know for his previous work CANNED BEAUTIES, demonstrates how even with a super shoestring budget short film you can still tell an interesting story. This is what he does in LOVE STORY OF FINGERS, which is basically what it says on the title, a short film starring four fingers, two brothers and two sisters who fall in love, get married and have little fingers. A STOP, by Yusuke Tabuki, is my personal favorite. A young man teaches his unlucky-in-love friend an infallible technique for picking up girls in the street, which he tries immediately with enormous success. This surprisingly well-acted comedy drama presents some of the best Japanese slice of life scenes that I have seen in a long time.