IN A WORLD where we're always connected—to a sometimes-frightening degree—there's an added value to truly foreign experiences. We travel to get out of our ordinary environment, and we're generally thrilled by how vast the differences are. Take comfort, then, in the strangeness found in Japanese Currents—the ninth annual, NW Film Center-hosted overview of noteworthy and contemporary Japanese films. It's proof that the internet hasn't succeeded (yet) in drumming out the idiosyncrasies of culture.
Each film I sampled from this year's festival tested my comfort zone, despite the range of genres the fest touches on. Curiosities abound in Round Trip Heart, which focuses on a woman who's almost embarrassingly good at submissive customer service in her role as an attendant on luxury trains. Or there are the thoroughly bizarre circumstances of Neko Samurai 2: A Tropical Adventure, in which a samurai in feudal Japan is paired with a precious stink-faced cat. Meanwhile, the intricacies of I Am Alone, a buddy comedy involving the yakuza and childrearing, require surprisingly sharp attention, and I struggled with the extreme outlandishness of Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory, in which a television turns into a pouty, hot shirtless dude.
For a truly kaleidoscopic (and relatively small commitment) experiment, dip a toe into the Sapporo Shorts Program, which promises a tour de weird of android relations, 100-year-old apologies, and life-altering wigs, among other things. For a deeper plunge, there's something for virtually every genre preference. To avoid silliness at all cost, try Nuclear Nation II, a documentary that follows up on the still-unfolding Fukushima disaster. Or check out the final offering from legendary animation house Studio Ghibli, When Marnie Was There. Whatever your approach, cultural variations in sensibility—and definitions of entertainment—will remain intact.