July 29, 2011

2011 Shinsedai Cinema Festival - a guest post by Dasha Kotova

Today’s post about the 2011 Shinsedai Cinema Festival – a showcase of independent Japanese films in Toronto – was written by one of the most important people in my life, who also happens to edit my English-language writing from time to time. My daughter, Dasha Kotova, is a writer for Toronto Film Scene, an online magazine that covers film-related events around Toronto, including all the most significant film festivals.


It’s been a while since I’ve acquired an interest in Japanese culture and film – and it only seems to grow stronger. Naturally, when I had the chance to review the 2011 Shinsedai Cinema Festival, I was very excited. What appealed to me about this festival – besides its general relevance to my areas of interest – was the chance to enjoy Japanese independent films, and films that are not as widely known outside of Japan. It’s a real privilege to have a chance to discover such works.

The entire program for this year captured my interest, but I had to pick five screenings. Kid Commotion was one thing I decided to see, because it’s a rare occasion indeed to be able to watch a Japanese silent film from the 1930s. Many of these films - even ones created by established filmmakers like Torajiro Saito - have been lost, and Kid Commotion is an example of an early Japanese film that managed to reach our time. It was screened with live sound foley – imagine watching a movie while somebody in the room uses pots, bottles, paper, and other handy objects to produce the sounds you might expect to hear in the story. One of such sound effects could involve holding a sheet up against a fan to imitate the rustling of the wind. The sounds end up kind of comedically exaggerated, which really goes with the whole silent slapstick film aesthetic.

When I found out that the director of The Catcher on the Shore, Ryugo Nakamura, was 13 years old when the film was made, I became very intrigued. Unique imaginations and insights are often gifts of an early age, but not as many young people get around to channeling those resources into something quite as productive as a feature film. Nakamura’s film shows a nuanced perspective of a 12-year-old character who has an expanded sense of empathy towards animals. If you take the time to remember it properly, life wasn’t at all simple when you’re very young – especially when you come across subjects like mortality or a lack of understanding from others - but a lot of people tend to forget the details when removed from the situation. Ryugo Nakamura appeared at the festival (with candy for all of us!) to explain how he wanted to show his impression of life in the rural Okinawa. Although it certainly appears to be a beautiful place, the film shows that there is more to it than what tourist advertising typically presents.

Another screening I’ve attended included two short films by the independent filmmaker Devi Kobayashi. His work reminded me a little of absurd comedy like The Mighty Boosh, only from a Japanese rather than a British perspective – and the central themes revolved around finding the lighter side of feelings like a total misfit. Devi Kobayashi also appeared at the festival – as one of his characters; in a costume consisting of a turn-of-the-20th-century dress and outlandish drag queen makeup – to sing a song, and talk about his influences (which, perhaps not surprisingly, did include British comedy).

The two other films I’ve seen at the festival were Wandering Home and Sawako Decides. Both explored serious subjects with a unique sense of humour. Wandering Home concerned recovering from life-threatening alcoholism – you might wonder how it is possible to inject humour into such a topic. In the case of this film, it was by introducing it gently from time to time, and by showing it entirely from the characters’ point of view. It makes sense that people tend to use humour to cope even with the situations that seem the most hopeless. I found it to be a very encouraging and life affirming film that treated the situation with respect and empathy.

And finally – Sawako Decides was just plain one of the most hilarious movies I have ever seen. When I saw the photo of the title character on the festival brochure, dressed in that hygienic white factory uniform, making a silly face, I thought “That looks so Devo! I have to see it.” The film turned out to be very relatable in the way it shows the absurdities of life, and all the challenges of a quarter-life crisis. And it’s always a real treat for my feminist self to find such a well-developed female character. If you’ve been looking for an antidote to Manic Pixie Dream Girls, you should definitely see this movie.

Well, it must be pretty clear that I have had a lot of fun with this year’s Shinsedai Cinema Festival. I’m already looking forward to enjoying more films next year.

Read Dasha's reviews here:


  1. Fascinating post! I admire your cinematic taste and your review writing, most definitely! Based on what you said here I would be happy to see any of these films and will keep an eye on the arts theater in Salem that might have one or more.

    Your mother gave you such a beautiful name. :)

  2. Dear Olga
    Oh.... I like cinema festivals! So nice!
    I wish you a happy weekend and send you a lot of greetings from Switzerland. Hugs Yvonne

  3. These movies sound interesting. I have not seen many Japanese movies since we left San Francisco and that was years ago. Here in suburban Atlanta the only movies shown are the regular American movies, many for kids, and extremely rarely a foreign flick. If we travel to New York we try to watch some good movies, but we don’t go there often enough. I’ll keep the names of these films.

  4. Toronto sounds like an interesting cultural city. This must be wonderful for you to experience such films and how it must feed into your creative side! I will pass these films on to my Japanese worshiping friends.=) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Interesante post, una ciudad de interes cultural.
    te deseo un feliz fin de semana.
    un abrazo.

  6. Thanks for making my artistic universe a little bigger today, Olga.

  7. How very interesting what you are writing!
    There is a Film Festival -in September - in San Sebastian too. We usually go to several of the projections every year, and I'm always biased in my choosing of the films to go towards the oriental. Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese films that are presented in the Festival are usually very good.

  8. Tienes un blog muy interesante y me encanta estar al tanto de la cultura en todas las partes del mundo ..me alegro de pasar por tu blog saludos desde Canarias

  9. Je sens, Olga, que, vu tes relations, tu vas bientôt pouvoir me présenter à un grand metteur en scène... Préviens-moi à l'avance, que je puisse louer un smocking!

  10. Very interesting! I so wish I could go to Japan, that is a must see! :-)

  11. Hello Olga and Dasha:
    This is a wonderful insight, and for us introduction, into a whole world of cinema about which we sadly know very little. Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to write this most informative and interesting post.

    One of the things which appeals to us greatly about living in Budapest is the number of Art cinemas to be found in the city. Having read this, we are encouraged to widen our experiences.

  12. To be honest, I realized how ignorant I was of the Japanese "shinsedai" films. I wonder if the word "shinsedai (new generation)" is understood in English as loan words like "tsunami"? I’ve gotten interested in Ryugo Nakamura and the world seen through the eyes of a boy in his teens. Thank you, Olga, for this post. Please give my best regards to your daughter.

    I see some familiar bloggers here, too.

  13. ciao! complimenti per il blog e le foto,grazie per essere passata da me!

  14. Hello, Olga.
    Though I have loved Japanese movies, I have not had enough information of the Shinsedai-Cinema-Festival. Thank you so much for sharing it!!! I really loved reading your post.

    Thank you for visiting my blog Green Tomato. I love meeting new friends, sharing our cultures very much through our blogging.
    Have a great week.

  15. Умничка!
    Как я с ней согласна!:
    If you take the time to remember it properly, life wasn’t at all simple when you’re very young – especially when you come across subjects like mortality or a lack of understanding from others - but a lot of people tend to forget the details when removed from the situation.
    Обязательно хочу посмотреть этот фильм!

  16. I never even thought of seeking out Japanese films. I don't belive I've ever seen one except the Miyazaki animations. These sound very interesting. I'll keep an eye open for them here in London, I'm sure they show from time to time.

  17. I have seen some japanese films, in the cinema festival of Thessaloniki, Greece. I think they are too hard in their feelings.Especially for women! Have i wrong? kisses.

  18. Hello, Olga.
    It was very interesting to read about "Shinsedai-Cinema-Festival" on which I have few knowledge. It is fantastic to know that youung people show their own way of thinking and feeling, expressing like this on movie.

    Thank you for visiting my blog.
    August has begun. Have a nice time.From Japan.

  19. Thank you for this fascinating write-up, Dasha. I will certainly look out for these films on DVD. I wish there could be a festival of Japanese cinema down here, I think it would be well-received as the French like alternative art.

  20. Olga, thanks a lot for introducing such an interesting film festival. I visited Toronto Film Scene through your link. Your daughter, Dasha’s reviews are marvelous and very helpful. Especially, I got interested in “Sawako Decides”. I found Utube showing some scenes from this movie. It was very funny that Sawako and the employees in white uniform are earnestly and loudly singing the company song. Japanese title was “Hello from the Bottom of a River”
    I think the chances to see Japanese independent films are not many even in Japan.
    Every film seems to emit shining characteristics. I’ll go back to the site to read them again.
    Did people in Toronto like these Japanese films?
    Honestly speaking, I have scarcely seen the independent films. I must have missed many excellent ones.
    Olga, thanks again. Have a great day.

  21. Fantastic guest post, Dasha! I'm a big fan of Japanese film.

  22. I, too, enjoy Japanese films. There is a stillness about them that enables thought and consolidates ideas.
    I enjoyed this post.

  23. Lydia,
    Thank you. I hope you would also enjoy these films if you get to see them. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to see them at a festival, because they are really not easily accessible in Canada.
    I really like the name my mom gave me :) Thanks.
    - Dasha

    Hi Yvonne,
    Cinema festivals can really be special and leave a lasting impression. The most popular one in Toronto is the Toronto International Film Festival.
    - Olga

    It can be a challenge to find good foreign films. In Toronto, I also have to put effort in finding something to satisfy my interest. I'm happy when I get the chance :)
    - Dasha

    I'm very pleased to share. Toronto does have many interesting events, but you need to know how to find them. Some of the best ones might be hidden away :) I like to find something rare to share with others.
    - Dasha

    Toronto can be very interesting :) I had a really good weekend; hope you did too.
    - Dasha

  24. Hi Lydia,
    My universe expands with the help from my daughter :)
    - Olga

    Great to hear you enjoyed my writing. I haven't explored Chinese or Vietnamese cinema yet, and I have seen some Korean films, which I really enjoy. I really like films by Ji-Woon Kim, for example.
    - Dasha

    Tratamos de mantener el contacto con los eventos culturales en Toronto, que nos hacen la vida más rica. Gracias por su visita. Me alegro de que haya disfrutado de mensaje de mi hija.
    - Olga

    Hi Richard,
    Si jamais cela arrive, je vous garantis que deux sièges dans la loge VIP à tous les festivals de cinéma.
    - Olga

    I haven't been to Japan yet, but I wish I could go too! I will one day. Thank you for reading.
    - Dasha

  25. Hello Jane and Lance Hattatt,
    For us, Japan has always been so culturally fascinating, and we love exploring it (at least as far as we can without being able to actually go there yet). It's difficult to really get a know a certain culture and its traditions without knowing the language. Dasha has started learning Japanese, and finds many words that don't have a literal translations.
    - Olga and Dasha

    Hi Yoko,
    It's not exactly a mainstream loan word in Canada, but it's something we get to know as we learn more about Japanese culture. We've always been interested in Japan in our family - of course, we realize that what we can find here is only the beginning.
    - Olga

    Hi Sabrina,
    Grazie per la visita. Sono contento vi sia piaciuto messaggio di mia figlia e la mia foto.
    - Olga

    Hi Tomoko,
    This festival is part of Toronto's community. It's been only the third annual festival, but it's been drawing more people each time. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I really love your blog.
    - Olga

    Hi patatinka,
    Спасибо! Я очень рада, что вам понравилось. Мир детства не так-то прост и интересно увидеть отражение этого мира в искусстве.
    - Даша

  26. Jenny Woolf,
    I just love Miyazaki films; they are some of my favourite of all time. They are a great place to start if you want to explore Japanese films. My personal interest in Japanese cinema started with that director. It's great to hear you found my post interesting.
    - Dasha

    Φανή Παπαγεωργίου, Ζωγράφος,
    Since I have begun to be interested in Japanese cinema, I have found that there is so much variety in the kinds of films you could see. You can discover something for any mood or personality. What kind of films do you like? If you enjoy stories about women and female friendships, you should see the movie Swing Girls.
    - Dasha

    Hi haricot,
    Since I haven't had the opportunity to visit this festival myself, I know about it from my daughter's words. I have acquired the wish to see all of these films. For us in Toronto, it's not always the easiest to find foreign films at any given moment. We'll think of something :) Thank you for visiting. I really enjoyed your blog.
    - Olga

    Yes, Japanese cinema has an infinite amount of things to offer. I also feel that if more people were exposed to it, they would find a lot in it for themselves, and it could be as popular as French films are.
    - Dasha

    Hi snowwhite,
    I think that, since the independent film industry doesn't have as many financial opportunities as commercial films, it must be more difficult to find them in any country. Dasha mentions that "Hello From the Bottom of a River" fits this movie much better. I guess they thought it was an obscure title for the English language :)
    - Olga

  27. Hi Fabio,
    Thank you for visiting :) I'm glad you liked The Toronto Film Scene.
    - Olga

    Talli Roland,
    Isn't Japanese cinema amazing? I'm a big fan; I see anything I can stumble upon. I'm happy you enjoyed my post.
    - Dasha

    I also find Japanese films mentally stimulating and kind of calming to the spirit at the same time. Thank you for reading my post.
    - Dasha

  28. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm), and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.

    TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque