2009 Japanese Film Festival Preview

The Japanese Film Festival is back, and I have recently had the opportunity to see some of the films from this year’s line-up. Here are mini-reviews of what I have seen, which I hope will serve as a guide to those of you planning to see something at this exciting film festival.

School Days with a Pig

School Days with a Pig

School Days with a Pig is based on a controversial true story. At the beginning of the academic year, a year six class teacher brought in a 2-month old piglet and introduced it to his class. The plan was to get the class to raise the piglet before they consumed it together at the end of the year. The teacher was hoping to teach all the students an important lesson about life, but the students became so strongly attached to the piglet, which they named P-chan, that many struggled with the idea of killing and eating her…

The pig featured in the film is cute, but the main stars of the movie are the child actors who play the students. I particularly like their interactions with the pig, which are natural and genuine. Their debates on what to do with P-chan, however, feel overlong and too heavily scripted. I also wonder how realistic the portrayal of the teacher is. Here he comes across as indecisive and has not done enough to support and counsel his students through the very difficult and challenging decision-making process.

But never mind, School Days with a Pig is obviously loved by many people, as it was the winner of the Audience Awards at the 2008 Tokyo International Film Festival in Japan and the 2009 Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea. So, needless to say, School Days with a Pig is a crowd pleaser.

6.5 tomatoes given to P-chan out of 10

Chef of the South Pole

Chef of the South Pole

Chef of the South Pole tells the true story of the Japanese Antarctic exploration team during their mission in 1997. The story took place at Dome Fuji Station, situated in one of the coldest parts of Antarctica. The crew included a scientist, a communication officer, a doctor, a meteorologist, a glaciologist, an officer in charge of vehicles and a supporting member. Accompanying the crew was a chef who prepared food for the team using some most unexpected ingredients…

The setting of the film is breathtakingly beautiful and much like a painting. The sky is perfectly blue and the land is completely white, with splashes of colours coming only from the clothes of the humans working there. Interestingly, the film does not focus on the work carried out by the team, but instead on their leisure activities. After work, these grown men got to behave like little kids, and many scenes showing them at play are absolutely hilarious. The other source of enjoyment for the team was the mouth-watering cuisines prepared by the chef. The food seems really delicious, and the characters’ responses to the different foods being served will surely put a smile on your face.

Chef of the South Pole has deservedly been given the unique honour of being both an opening film (in Melbourne) and a closing film (in Sydney) at this year’s Japanese Film Festival. It is a fun film, and a delightful little gem.

8 peanuts being thrown at the Setsuban Festival out of 10

Penguins in the Sky- Asahiyama Zoo

Penguins in the Sky

Penguins in the Sky- Asahiyama Zoo tells the true story of Asahiyama Zoo, Japan’s north most zoo. With time, it had become old and rundown, but there was no money available to fix it. Instead of spending money on revitalising the zoo and providing essential equipment, the authorities built a roller coaster. As a result, the owner and zookeepers had to face the threat of permanent closure of their zoo…

The film boasts a superb cast and wonderful performances. I get the strong feeling that they really do love animals. As a result, seeing the characters resolve one crisis after another in order to save the zoo is so much more touching. I am truly impressed by the perseverance and determination of everyone working at the zoo. The main message of the film is loud and clear: never give up, because if you have faith, even penguins can one day fly.

The screenwriter has written a script that makes good use of the wonderful true story on which the film is based. The cinematography is absolutely fantastic. The snow scenes are pretty, and the animals are gorgeously filmed. The music is exhilarating and the theme song is extremely catchy. I guess I can keep singing praises, but the simple fact is that Penguins in the Sky- Asahiyama Zoo is just superbly made. It is a beautiful, beautiful film, and I like it very much.

8.5 people showing their support for Asahiyama Zoo out of 10

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