Interview: Edinburgh Film Festival Artistic Director Chris Fujiwara on Asian film in the UK, Shinji Somai and more

Brian Clark, European Editor
After the much-discussed article we ran about the end of Third Window Films called into question, among other issues, the market for challenging Asian films in the UK, it's interesting to see what a strong focus this year's Edinburgh Film Festival has put on Asian film.

In addition to a number of competition titles from all over Asia, the festival is showing a restored print of Shin'ya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo, the Iron Man, a complete retrospective of Shinji Somai's (Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, Love Hotel) films and an expansive sidebar dedicated to the Filipino New Wave. For more details, recommendations and some further perspective on Asian film in the UK, we turned to the festival's artistic director Chris Fujiwara.

Twitch - While it's an incredibly expansive lineup, there's definitely a focus on Asian film in this year's Edinburg Film festival. Was this intentional from the beginning or did it just happen to play out this way?

Fujiwara - I've been interested in Asian cinema for a long time. It's not too much to say that since the 1980s, East Asia has been the richest, most exciting region for filmmaking. Before coming to Edinburgh I'd been living in Tokyo for six years so I've had the chance to get to know a number of filmmakers, film critics, and film programmers in the region.


Can you talk a bit more about your goals and the reasons behind this programming?



I wanted to introduce to Edinburgh some of the best contemporary work from East Asia. Some of the directors whose films we are showing are well known, such as Lav Diaz, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Wang Bing. Others are young filmmakers who are represented by their first or second feature.

The Shinji Somai retrospective is especially interesting, as he's not as known outside Japan, but very famous in the country. How did his films come to your attention for inclusion in the festival?

For years, Somai had been for me only a name - someone whose work, I knew, was highly regarded in Japan. I had no way of appreciating the reasons why he was held in such esteem until I saw his films at the retrospective at TOKYO FILMeX last November. They were absolutely astonishing me and they continue to astonish me the more I watch them.


How difficult was it to pull together an entire retrospective?


It was very difficult. Somai worked for a number of different studios, and the rights to his films belong to different companies and have to be negotiated separately. Also, finding the prints was a major undertaking. We couldn't have done this retrospective without the help of TOKYO FILMeX and without the help of Koji Enokido, a film producer and director who started his career as Somai's assistant. Enokido-san is one of an informal group of former Somai associates who are dedicated to safeguarding his legacy and bringing his films to a wider audience. They call themselves the Somai-gumi, or the Somai team.

And on the subject of filmmakers who have trouble finding an audience outside of Japan: We've just run an article about the unfortunate end of Third Window Films' theatrical distribution run. It sparked quite a bit of debate about the market for Asian film in the U.K., especially more adventurous stuff that doesn't fall into internationally accepted genres associated with Japan (Samurai's etc.) As someone who seems to be trying to make sure Asian cinema still has a home in the UK, what are your thoughts on the current demand in the UK for Asian film?




I don't know the UK audience so well yet, having lived here only since January. I was very sorry to read Adam's letter, sorry that Himuzu did not do better theatrically here, and sorry that he's decided to get out of theatrical distribution. I believe that the audience needs to be educated, and that there are opportunities for this to happen in the UK, where there are many film festivals, many people doing good critical writing on film, and many universities with film studies courses. A potential audience exists for adventurous films. It's just necessary to reach them and show them why they would want to go to the cinemas to see these films. I know Adam has done a lot of this work; now others need to join him.


The Philippines new wave program also caught my eye. Can you talk some about the process of putting together this program and your perception of Filipino cinema in general right now?



Khavn De La Cruz,
a very prolific filmmaker and musician, curated this program. I think the Philippines is currently the most exciting country in the world for cinema. There is a community of independent filmmakers there working with little or no institutional support, with few opportunities to show their films in regular cinemas in their own country, and they are helping one another get their films made and shown. Khavn's program is an example of this effort.

What are a few of your favorite discoveries in the festival program among the newer Asian cinema playing?



Sleepless Night
by Jang Kun-Jae is a beautiful film, a very simple, brief, closely observed study of an ordinary Seoul married couple in their thirties who are considering having a baby. It won the prize in the Korean section at the Jeonju International Film Festival where it premiered shortly after we had already programmed it for our festival. We also have the world premiere of the Chinese film Here, Then the first feature directed by Mao Mao - a really remarkable film about the occupations and obsessions of a diverse group of characters. The first part of the film is set in a desolate resort town, the second part in Beijing, and it's visually extraordinary, reflecting the influences of both Michelangelo Antonioni and Hou Hsiao-hsien and finding an original way of working with these influences. I would also mention DJ Chen's Young Dudes, from Taiwan, a mysterious and very pleasant film about how three young people face the imminent end of humanity. 

Around the Internet:
  • phil

    It's good to see Shinji Somai getting some attention. "Love Hotel" is an unsung classic of 80s Japanese cinema.

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