The full program for this year’s Sydney Film Festival has been announced, and as usual there are plenty of morsels available for fans of Asian cinema.
This year in particular there are a couple In Competition (including Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, in the director’s reputedly hard-won original cut), a program of modern Chinese films, a special presentation of a couple of Studio Ghibli anime classics, and a restored print of Indian auteur Satyajit Ray’s classic Charulata.
All up, there’s plenty to see, and festivities kick off on 4 June. You can find the full program with lots of info and trailers at the SFF website, or read on for Heroic Cinema’s guide to the Asian feature films on show this year!
(Note: as usual, I’m writing only about features here — there are a pile of good documentaries and short films screening as well!)
Black Coal, Thin Ice
2014, China/Hong Kong, directed by Diao Yinan
2014, China, directed by Yang Heng
The trailer for Lake August suggests the film might be made entirely without camera movements, all static long shots of ennui-consumed young people in provincial China. A beautiful-looking indie art film from writer-director Yang Heng (Betelnut, Sun Spots).
Dancing in the Room
2013, China, directed by Peng Lei
SFF’s guide describes this as a “droll, oddball, low-budget, sort-of-black, rather cute non-romantic comedy”, which (excitingly) doesn’t sound like anything I’ve seen from China before. Dancing in the Room is an indie film from writer-director Peng Lei, who’s also the frontman of Beijing band New Pants. The trailer includes a person in a quirkily charming, yet mildly disturbing furry cat costume… wielding a knife. More reason to see it.
Up in the Wind
2013, China, directed by Teng Huatao
A more commercial film than some of the other Chinese films at this year’s festival, Up in the Wind is a comedy-drama about a young Chinese magazine writer on assignment in Nepal, with a brief to write about ‘happiness’. The trailer seems to sell this as a pretty light-hearted drama with an exotic setting, but the SFF synopsis and the reviews suggest that director Teng Huatao has a bit more going on here than that. Stars Ni Ni and Jing Boran.
1964, India, directed by Satyajit Ray
An adaptation of the poet Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Nastanirh (“The Broken Nest”), the film tells the story of lonely housewife Charu, living a closeted life of idle luxury in 1870’s Calcutta, and her growing attraction for Amal, a cousin of her husband’s who arrives to keep her company during the day.
2013, India/Canada, directed by Richie Mehta
A powerful drama about a father who, mired in poverty, has sent his 12-year-old son Siddharth to work at a factory in a distant city. When he doesn’t return to visit when he’s supposed to, his father sets out to find him, despite the incredibly long odds. Canadian director Richie Mehta’s followup to 2007’s Amal.
2013, India/Germany/France/USA, directed by Ritesh Batra
2014, Indonesia/Japan, directed by The Mo Brothers
Fish & Cat
2013, Iran, directed by Shahram Mokri
File this under “unusual films you’d probably only ever be lucky to see at a festival”. Fish & Cat, from Iranian director Shahram Mokri, is suggestive of a psychological horror film in a creepy, shot-on-the-run kind of way — except that it’s anything but, shot in a single take that took a month to meticulously rehearse.
Grave of the Fireflies
1988, Japan, directed by Isao Takahata (read Ching-yee’s review!)
One of the earliest films made by beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies has a considerable reputation for making people cry: it’s the tale of two orphaned children struggling to survive at the end of World War II in Japan. As SFF’s synopsis notes, it’s a bit of rarity to see this in Oz on the big screen (particularly compared to Ghibli’s more joyful output), so it’s one you shouldn’t miss.
Tamako in Moratorium
2013, Japan, directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita
A slacker comedy from Japanese director Nobuhiro Yamashita, following a young woman who comes home to live with her father again after university rather than going out into the wider world. Stars actress and singer Atsuko Maeda (formerly of idol group AKB48).
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
2013, Japan, directed by Isao Takahata
The latest film from Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata (see also Grave of the Fireflies above!), The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is an animated adaptation of the ancient Japanese folk story, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, in which a woodcutter finds a tiny princess inside the stalk of a bamboo shoot. It’s his first film since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas.
My Neighbor Totoro
1988, Japan, directed by Hayao Miyazaki (read Andy’s review!)
Speaking of more joyful Ghibli films, here’s the one that everyone knows: Totoro lends his likeness to the Ghibli logo, and he’s a titanic figure (hah!) amongst the pantheon of anime characters. Produced in the same year as Fireflies above, My Neighbor Totoro was directed by master animator Hayao Miyazaki tells the story of two young children who have moved to the countryside with their father, and the adventures they have with the forest spirits they encounter. It’s a wonderful, warmhearted film and well worth seeing if you haven’t already.
2013, Singapore, directed by Anthony Chen (read Yee-Yin’s review!)
We’ve written about Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s film several times already; Yee-Yin caught it at the Stockholm Film Festival last year and also had the chance to interview him. Ilo Ilo stars Koh Jia Ler as a young boy growing up in Singapore. His parents are wrapped up in their own lives and pressures, so he develops a relationship with their new Filipino maid, played by Angeli Bayani.Hiroshima, mon amour
1959, France/Japan, directed by Alain Resnais
Alain Renais’ 1959 film is another of the remastered classics that SFF is presenting this year, the others being Satyajit Ray’s Charulata described above and Nicholasy Ray’s Hollywood rebellion film with James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause. The film is a drama filmed through the conversations of a French woman and a Japanese man, played by Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada, famous for its nonlinear structure and as a forerunner of the French New Wave.
2013, South Korea, directed by Bong Joon-ho (read Elizabeth’s review!)
His latest, Snowpiercer, is his first English-language film, and quite an international affair: it’s an adaptation of French sci-fi graphic novel Le Transperceneige and stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton. The film is set on a dystopian future earth, where humanity is confined by a freezing globe to an ever-moving train, divided by social class.
There was a great deal of press about Snowpiercer as this particular train was rumbling towards its release in the USA, with rumors that some 20+ minutes would be cut from the director’s preferred version of the film. Looks like we’ll be getting the real deal, though, as SFF says the runtime is 126 minutes, just like the Korean release.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
2014, USA, directed by David Zellner
OK, so this is an American film. I’m only mentioning it here because the lead is Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim, Norwegian Wood) and because I really like the hook: it’s about a young woman who is convinced that the satchel of cash in the Coen brothers’ film Fargo is real, and that all she’s got to do is get to Minnesota and dig it up.
2013, Australia, directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody
Australian-directed film Ruin follows to story of two young Cambodians, Phirun and Sovanna, drawn together as they both try to escape troubled lives. The trailer suggests a poetic, dreamlike piece of filmmaking, both in terms of its narrative and its visuals/score, and it sounds like this has drawn attention on the international festival circuit already. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Venice.
2013, South Korea, directed by Yeon Sang-ho
The Fake is a ferocious-looking animated film from director Yeon Sang-ho, who previously directed 2011’s The King of Pigs, a snarling commentary on Korean high school life and social stratification. This time, the writer-director turns his attention to organised religion and its role in Korea’s rural villages, and The Fake looks to be every bit as powerful.
That’s all for now — enjoy the festival!