Returning for its 12th year, the Northwest Film Center’s Japanese Currents series brings audiences a glimpse into the recent cinematic climate of Japan. This year's selections—drawing from films released in Japan from 2017 and 2018—has some indie, some anime, and a three-and-a-half-hour documentary about an asbestos disaster that I didn't hate!
Of the bunch, the two brightest films are both anime: I wrote about Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai when it came through Portland last November, but it's nice to see such a luminous, touching film available on the big screen again. Mirai is about a four-year-old boy, Kun, who is so annoyed by his new baby sister that he becomes unstuck in time. (He's very annoyed!) The time travel stuff unfolds an interesting allegory about family, ancestors, and all the happenstance necessary for any life to exist at all—and for kid viewers, there's a lot of colors and dogs. Mirai is an inventive family adventure that can be enjoyed by viewers of any age, but I should note that the screening at the Whitsell Auditorium (Sat April 6, 4:30 pm) is in Japanese with English subtitles.
By comparison, Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Sat April 13, 5:30 pm) has more adult themes—drinking games with gods, men who won’t change their underwear until they meet their true love, and the inscrutable world of college guerilla theater. It flows with an unlifting and enchanting optimism. Throughout the course of an evening, a woman credited as “The Girl with Black Hair,” but who's called Kohai or "Junior" throughout the film, knocks back drinks and casually misses the amorous attempts of her older classmate, called Sempai or "Senior." Initially this was nerve-wracking, because American society has taught me to anticipate terrible repercussions when women drink as much as they like. But I’ll spoil it a little: No one hurts her while she’s drunk! I think it’s okay to ruin that part, because The Night Is Short isn’t a cautionary tale. It’s about going out! The film is about the pleasure of walking around at night and talking to strangers, running into old friends and making new ones. When was the last time a woman got to be in a story like that? My feminist read aside, The Night Is Short is a silly, slightly philosophical anime film that incorporates magic realism into a plot criss-crossing tale of nighttime hijinks. Highly recommended!
Tremble All You Want (Fri April 5, 7 pm), the romantic comedy of this year's series, also contains some cartoonish elements. It starts slow, but endears itself with the chatty internal monologue of its central character Yoshika (Matsuoka Mayu)—a 20-something accountant with a longstanding fixation on her high-school crush. When she's pursued by a co-worker, she faces the complexity of a real relationship. One of the reasons I suspect American audiences are drawn to Japanese cinema is that no matter how weird, restless, or excluded by society you may feel, there’s a Japanese artist making a film that is five times more intense than your worst, most shut-in day. Tremble All You Want is that, with jokes and gags about being bad at interpersonal intimacy. It's slow, cute, and speaks to modern loneliness.
If you'd rather have your modern loneliness in drama form (with gorgeous long shots and sparse dialogue) Takayuki Fukata's Forgotten Planets (Sun April 14, 4:30 pm) is a lovely mumblecore movie about creative women going against society's expectations. It feels like a film about panoramic shots that accidentally includes two women in the foreground. We glimpse Rui (Eriko Tomioka) and Meiko (Yukari Nakagawa) as they're pushed by male family members to give up their professional dreams for expected caretaker roles. The women don't really come together until the end, so Forgotten Planets isn't really about their relationship as much as their symmetry. Still, it's lovely, meditative, and would be a good film for someone learning Japanese, since there are a lot of pauses. A LOT of pauses. Another cool thing: Forgotten Planets director Takayuki Fukata will be in attendance at the screening.
I don't understand how you're supposed to watch Kazou Hara's three-and-a-half-hour-long documentary Sennan Asbestos Disaster in a theater that doesn't allow snacks (thanks for nothing, Whitsell Auditorium). But Sennan Asbestos Disaster (Sat April 6, noon) is not without its charms. If you have an interest in how social action really goes down (in Japan) and want to see a documentary that includes as much process as possible, Sennan Asbestos Disaster could be your speed. Despite the length, I was never bored by it. Social action isn't a Fast and the Furious movie, so attendees should definitely have a tolerance for sitting and listening to elderly people talk.