The opening film of the three-day festival was the critically acclaimed film Wife of a Spy by filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Film fans could choose from a diverse line-up of Japanese films such as Josee, the Tiger and the Fish, Talking the Pictures, Poupelle of Chimney Town, Liar x Liar, Step, Under the Open Sky, Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama, Not Quite Dead Yet, AI Amok and The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window.
In this interview, Koji Sato talks about the key areas of focus in the immediate future to boost intercultural relations between India and Japan, as the two countries celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Q1. Tell us about the reach of the online version of the Japanese Film Festival 2022.
The actual numbers for the online edition of JFF 2022 are currently being processed. But what I can tell you is that it’s been quite successful. We reached a total of 25 countries including India. In India alone, we had over 10,000 people watching the festival online as per our early estimates.
Q2. How can such film festivals help in further strengthening the bond between India and Japan?
Looking at the ever-growing love for Japanese culture and content in India, we endeavour to further promote collaboration between Indian and Japanese film industries. I believe the JFF will help further consolidate the friendship between the people of our two countries by creating avenues for our Indian audiences to seamlessly enjoy these experiences in their everyday lives. Cinema has the power to bring people together from all over the world, and we are here to promote this togetherness
Q3. How does it feel to be back with the theatrical edition of the festival?
We are delighted to be back. I myself am very much happy and energised. I feel that the true film experience can only be attained in the theatres. The positive response we got for the online edition of JFF, which ran successfully for two weeks, encouraged us to launch the theatrical edition of the festival.
Q4. Which are your favourite films that are being screened as part of this festival?
The opening film Wife of a Spy by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a fantastic film. It’s serious and yet very touching. It’s a historical drama set in World War II. It won the prestigious Silver Lion at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. It was also the closing film of the 2021 IFFI.
Other films on the lineup are also very good but I would particularly like to recommend the anime film Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama, which is an Indo-Japanese collaboration. Directed and produced by Yugo Sako, I think it is a legendary work but when it came out back in 1992, for some reason not many people could watch the film, both in Japan and India. The producers with their own efforts have made a 4K Digitally Remastered Version which we have brought to India.
I am also very excited to watch it. It’s a kind of hybrid of Indian soul with Japanese anime. I am sure the new generation of filmgoers will also like it.
Q5. What are the latest trends in Japanese cinema?
Commercially speaking, anime films from Japan have been huge blockbusters. All the top grossers in the recent times have been anime films. Having said that, I think some very interesting work is being made by our independent filmmakers as well. These are wonderful, unique and culturally rich films that may not have national wide releases but there are independent theatres in every part of the country that screen such films.
Q6. So what can we expect next from the Japan Foundation as far as cinema is concerned?
Well, we have many interesting things lined up. But it all depends on the situation given the uncertainty created by the pandemic. As far as movies are concerned, Japan Foundation will like to bring it as a real experience for the Japanese cinema enthusiasts in future also as long as situation allows us to do so.
Q7. How do you look back at the last two years? What will be your key areas of focus in the immediate future?
Covid had made everything very difficult. So we totally switched to the digital mode, which basically kept us up and running. Other than online film screenings, we have also been running our culture courses online. Also, we have been hosting online workshops for Indian people on Origami, Ikebana, etc.
We are committed bringing the cultural experiences to the real world: be it films, music or language courses. We would really like to promote the Japanese culture to more and more Indian people, especially the youth. We are really keen on strengthening the longstanding relationship between the two nations. This year, of course, is very special as we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and India.
Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic