Yubari 2012 Preview: Official Selection and Fantastic Off-Theatre Competition

James Marsh, Asian Editor
We like to cover the broadest possible range of films and film festivals here at Twitch, which means not only tackling the high-profile attention-grabbing bull pens like Sundance and the Berlinale, but also the smaller, more independently-spirited affairs in the far-flung corners of the globe. The Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival (YIFFF) has been running in one form or another since 1990 in the small snowy former mining town of Yubari in North East Japan. In the past the festival has entertained international guests from the filmmaking community such as Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, Steve Martin and Quentin Tarantino, and I have it on good authority that the schoolgirl assassin in KILL BILL: VOLUME 1, Gogo Yubari, was in fact named after this remote haven of film lovers.   

While the festival does include an "Official Selection" of high-profile international titles in its programme, the main focus and raison-d'etre for the festival is the "Fantastic Off-Theatre Competition", which showcases low budget genre cinema from Japan and the surrounding region. Last year the big winner to emerge from the festival was INVASION OF ALIEN BIKINI, Korean director Oh Young Doo's bizarre and hilarious science-fiction romance. It was the first time that a non-Japanese film had been awarded the festival's Grand Prix, and it went on to play festivals around the world and even get a theatrical run back home in Korea.

This year I will be pulling on my thermals and heading out into the wilds of Hokkaido prefecture to brave a slew of brand new bizarre and beautiful works from some of the region's most exciting - and no doubt slightly deranged - new cinematic voices. The festival runs from 23-27 February and over the next few days I'll be running down the many delights Yubari 2012 has in store! 

OFFICIAL SELECTION:

There are a number of familiar mainstream titles in this line-up, but also a couple of exciting looking Japanese films that could be worth checking out! Opening proceedings is Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, while other US entries include animated fare PUSS IN BOOTS, Meryl Streep in multi-award-winning form as THE IRON LADY. Racial awareness drama THE HELP also makes an appearance, as does Roland Emmerich's ANONYMOUS and Cameron Diaz vehicle, BAD TEACHER. 

But now we have got those out of the way, let's take a look at the more interesting inclusions:

Closing Film:
WE WERE THERE: PART ONE
Director Takahiro Miki (SOLANIN, CONTROL TOWER) adapts Yuki Obata's best-selling manga for the big screen in two parts, both due to hit Japanese screens in 2012. The story centres on Nanami (Yuriko Yoshitaka), who discovers her old college is about to be demolished, and reminisces about her time there and her relationship with troubled Yana (Toma Ikuta).



ULTRAMAN SAGA
The world premiere of the largest scale Ultraman movie ever made sees the women-only Earth Defense Force Team U and mighty heroes Ultraman Zero and Ultraman Cosmos do battle with Alien Bat for the safety of all mankind.



A SOWER OF SEEDS 
Toshi Shioya directs and stars in this inspirational and - hopefully - motivational story of rural tea cultivators, that promotes growth, beauty and down-to-earth living. 



THE WARPED FOREST
In a parallel world where dwarves live alongside humans, director Shunichiro Miki (FUNKY FOREST) delivers an enigmatic sci-fi movie packed with pop, humour and occasional splatter. Fumi Nikaido (HIMIZU) and Rinko Kikuchi (BABEL) star.  



FANTASTIC OFF-THEATRE COMPETITION:

This is where the real action happens! This year's jury includes VIBRATOR director Ryuichi Hiroki, veteran actress Noriko Hayami, Latin Beat Film Festival (Tokyo) curator Alberto Calero Lugo, PiFan Chief Programmer Jin Park and UNDERWATER LOVE director Shinji Imaoka. There are six shorts paired with six feature-length films in the competition.

DEFECT (Short)
Shot as part of the "48-hour Film Project", director Kenji Tanaka is a self-proclaimed "middle-aged-movie-boy" and full-time TV commercial producer. What it's actually about is anyone's guess at this stage.



THE BRAT! (Feature)
A bizarre horror fantasy that may also be largely biographical for director Taichi Suzuki. Can a guy, who takes out his insecurities concerning his ugly appearance on those around him, succeed as a filmmaker?



REAR WINDOW (Short)
Shanghainese filmmaker Sun Nan, who studied in Korea, brings us the story of two voyeuristic students who see something they shouldn't when spying on the woman across the street.


THE TOILET AND WOMEN (Feature)
A twisted love story between a boy and his violent sister struggling to cope after the deaths of their parents is a unique and powerful vision from young female director Haruhi Oguri.



BEATLES (Short)
Yuichiro Sakashita insists that this is not a fan film about the greatest rock n roll band of all time, but nevertheless depicts the swarms of people desperately looking for tickets for The Beatles' Japan concerts in July 1966.



LET'S-MAKE-THE-TEACHER-HAVE-A-MISCARRIAGE CLUB (Feature)
Perhaps already the winner of the festival's strangest movie title award, Eisuke Naito's film addresses a shocking real event and questions the nature of mankind, while asking what should be done when dealing with behaviour like this.



A LADY EXPRESSING CONCERNS (Short)
Isao Kusakari conjures up some beautiful imagery in his film that asks us how we can survive in this world without trusting other people.



THE GENKIYA (Feature)
The story of a self-stylised dreamer who floats around the streets of Shibuya is the work of writer/cinematographer/director Genta Uehara.



MOONLIGHT SONATA (Short)
Korean short from director Lim Cheol Min plays out to Beethoven's titular composition, and examines a young man's relationship with his boss's wife.



GOODBYE (OR NOT!) (Feature)
Former participants in the work of Sono Sion, Quanah Takahata and Hirohito Takino tell the story of a lazy, foul-mouthed student played by Misa Sato.



THE FEET (Short)
"This film is about legs. Do you like legs? I like legs." So says director Daisuke Yamaoka of his latest cinematic venture. 



OSAKA VIOLENCE (Feature)
Takahiro Ishihara gathered together students, fighters, gang members and ex-cons for this authentic look at Osaka street life that asks, "Can wickedness and villainy live together in normal society?"


And there's lots more where this came from! Check back throughout the week for previews of the Special Programmes and Events that will make up the rest of Yubari 2012. 
 
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