It´s already the eighth time that the Japanese film festival is running parallel to the cherry blossom festival in Hamburg. A range of Japanese films were screened across five days, which ranged from absolute trash through manga/anime to drama. The only exception was a Hamburg-based production, “Taiketsu”, which examined Japan in Germany. The fact that there were four cinemas screening films at exactly the same time presented a problem for those who didn´t have an unlimited amount of time, seeing as most of the films overlapped. Many of them were repeated on another day, but that wasn´t much help for me given my lack of time available. I will, however, see the films I missed on DVD and provide reviews for you.
Wednesday 16th May 2007
The Ode To Joy Location: Streits
Première with guests: Masanobu Deme, Yosuke Okada, Riuko Tominaga, Reiko Takashima, Bruno Ganz, Oliver Bootz, Kostja Ullmann and others.
The Japanese foreign minister gave a five-page speech in German, which was very, very, very long. The translator, who had drawn the short straw, decided that the speech was not as interesting as the one he created for the guests.
During WW1 in 1914, 4.700 German soldiers were interned in Kurume. After two abysmal years in the Japanese internment camps, when the soldiers have been worn down by hunger and filth, they are relocated to the Bando camp in Naruto. Confused, the Germans note that their new camp leader Toyohisa Matsue (Ken Matsudaira) behaves very amiably to them, and grants them so many freedoms that the inmates start to feel as though they are more in a holiday camp than an internment camp. They have a lab, a band, a bakery and their own newspaper. Camp leader Matsue, due to his liberal approach, faces many prejudices from his own countrymen, and even some Germans who mistrust his attitude. In the end, however, friendship prevails.
According to producer Okada, Bruno Ganz is the most happening German actor at the moment. Given few German productions make it over to Japan, it seems that the movie “Downfall”, where Ganz played Hitler, made a lasting impression over there. It´s no wonder then that he landed the role of Major-General Kurt Heinrich in this German/Japanese production. However, whether Ganz makes the transition successfully with this kind of role to Japan is highly questionable. Given the Japanese Who´s Who within the casting, the low-budget film was also a box office hit in Japan. The camp that is described in the movie is actually real. The historical remains were polished again to a high sheen by the film crew and now it´s a tourist attraction, where you can purchase such “nice” trinkets as cuckoo clocks and beer steins as real Naruto-German souvenirs.
Frankly, I wondered during the press conference whether there was a grain of truth in all the gushing praise, backscratching and image polishing. The whole plot was completely new to me, and did not sound very credible. Many people, including the producer, film company, and skeptics like myself, reckoned that the four rows of white-haired people were descendants of those in the camp. According to a few conversations, it turns out that the diaries of the prisoners were incorporated into the script and the story of each inmate (many of whom still live in Japan) was confirmed. Regarding the reputation of the camps themselves, they invited the mayor of Naruto himself along.
At the end of the movie, when, as a final thank you of the inmates to the camp leader and the locals of the area, Beethoven´s “Ode to Joy” was played and a blind German cried, exclaiming “I can see Germany! I can see the homeland!”, my pain threshold of grease was reached.
Thursday the 17th May 2007
Duration: 111 minutes
Director: Michael Arias (an American living in Japan)
Distribution: Sony Pictures
Two street urchins Kuro and Shiro are fighting against Yakuzas and aliens in their “Treasure Town”, a place which only exists for them. A finger-wagging tale against corruption, but a little too sentimental.
A sensor called DC-Mini is the tool of a psychotherapy treatment. With its help, therapists can log into the dreams of their patients, reminiscent of “The Cell”. A DC-Mini is stolen and then used against dreamers, so that they start to suffer from real life harm. Doctor Atsuko fights in the dreamworld as her dream-alter-ego “Paprika” against this unknown enemy. The whole thing is pretty confusing, but still with wonderful and striking imagery. One of the better animes!
The mad X-ray researcher Hoichi Asuka has a mission: to verify the existence of the giant salamander “Kinjiro”. Kinjiro, however, is guarded by four sisters in an institution especially created for it, and also has an army of security guards. In Tarantino-esque fashion, the radiologist turns into a bandit at the halfway point. The film shines through with a ridiculous plot, Japanese proles and super-cheap special effects – and so the lengthy duration of the movie is tolerable.
The Silver Mask Parts 1-3 Location: 3001
Duration: 130 minutes
What the audience experienced here truly was a divisive experience. While I was shaking from laughter from one moment to the next, my neighbor maintained an expression contorted with pained and discomfort. The Silver Mask is trash par excellence! The fact alone that the Japanese actors, who are meant to portray Germans, speak with the accent that they do, is simply marvelous. In addition, as a template for the movie plot, which is based around myths, legends and fairytales, they have peppered it with bits of Hitler. Sounds strange? You bet it is!
The plot is as follows: the mage Ogai had a fling in 1888 with a German singer, from which Zabine was born. This mage is not just a great scholar and savior of the world, he also possesses two Nibelung rings. One of these rings, which he gives to Zabine´s mother, allows both women to turn into valkyries and wear silver armor. When Zabine one day saves a boy´s life with this power, the village turns on them and brands them as witches. Dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, the women are hunted by a gigantic mob who are shouting things like “Yeaaah, kill her!” or “Fire witch!” which should be “Burn the witch!” Ingenious. The power-hungry old Japanese Dr. Garigari fires at the mob with lasers with the help of aliens, all of which are behind the ring, from his hitherto-unseen zeppelin. He actually looks a little like Fu Manchu. Zabine´s mother falls ill and dies, so Zabine becomes the last valkyrie – the silver mask. She makes for Japan to seek her father, encountering many other characters along the way, including Spiderman, Batman and Rumpelstiltskin (played by a Japanese dwarf). The production and everything else is simply so bad, that it becomes amazing. Wonderful and highly recommended rubbish!
German drummers that do Japanese drumming? At first I thought this would be about the Japanese and went along to see PTP. As they stood by their drums, I was initially disappointed, but by the time the third song “Taiko-Metal” they had won me over. Even if they didn´t drum as masterly or as synchronized as their Japanese colleagues, I must say that these north German stars gave a solid performance. Talented!