Small Commentaries: Friends of Japanese Indie Cinema.


If one asks me about what the joys of Japanese indie-cinema are, I would not only answer that the Japanese indie-scene of cinema is a field where creativity is able to run more free, but I would also answer that the indie-scene is, first of all, a sum of communities of people supporting each other’s expression of one’s creativity. These communities are, at least in my experience, welcoming to anyone who supports the art of cinema.

Koji Segawa’s Swaying Mariko

When I was still living in Tokyo – combining a part-time job at an udon fast-food place with studying Japanese, I sometimes had the honour to be invited to film-screenings. While I, as any Japanese language student in Tokyo can attest, had not a large budget to spend, I never failed to take the opportunity to go to catch indie-movies at the cinema.

In December 2018, I received an invitation by Koji Segawa to see Swaying Mariko (2017) on the big screen. It is always ‘dangerous’ to see a movie a second time, especially after you have reviewed it, due to the fact that a second viewing can always alter one’s analysis or criticism. If I were asked to give a reason why this happens, I would say it is caused by the changes at the level of the spectator’s emotional state or the state of his ego, which is ever, even if we do not experience at such, subjected to constant change.

Tanaka Jun / Koji Segawa
Jun Tanaka (Left) Koji Segawa (right)

Nevertheless, in my case, my second viewing of Swaying Mariko (2017) corroborated my first analysis. His slice-of-life narrative, while at the short-side, still offered a compelling psychological exploration of the unsaid and its subjective effects.

Swaying Mariko may at times feel rough around the edges, but Koji Segawa crafted a strange, compelling and, at times, slightly confronting slice-of-life narrative. And while the narrative touches subtly upon various psycho-social dimensions, its most powerful message to the spectator is that that it is never good to leave things unsaid – and that only communication between subjects can mend a relationship and can safe subjects from the no-good position they fundamentally adopt. Segawa, Give us more of your psychological narratives, but, if I’m allowed to give a suggestion, please make them a little bit longer.

Jun Tanaka, promising horror-director, and the true start of Psycho-cinematography

After the screening, Jun Tanaka, director of Bamy (2017), led the Q&A with Koji Segawa. With precise questions and a fine sense of humour, he ensured that the spectators had an informative evening. But that’s not the reason why I’m mentioning him. Jun Tanaka’s Bamy (2017) is, for me, a special narrative, not only because this narrative reveals the promise he has as director, but also because it is the cinematographical narrative that marked the start of psycho-cinematography in its current form.

Jun Tanaka Koji Segawa
Jun Tanaka (left) Koji Segawa (right)

While I had written reviews of Japanese movies before, it was only when my girlfriend – now my wive – urged me to take my website more seriously that I started reviewing on a regularly basis. The first movie, the movie that started it all, was Tanaka’s wonderful debut movie. We sincerely hope he can realize his next project and that his next horror narrative will cement his status.

Tanaka’s debut feature proves to be an accomplished product. Even though some of the music used undermines the power contained in the cinematography, Bamy is a fresh and compelling horror narrative, framing the unsettling unheimliche so sensible on the silver screen. If this movie can be understood as a flower bud showing great promise, we can’t wait till Tanaka’s cinematographical style comes into full bloom.

An honest question from Yosuke Takeuchi, director of The Sower (2016).

While we were drinking beer and enjoying the fresh taste of sashimi, Yosuke Takeuchi, who was sitting next to me, suddenly asked my why his movie, The Sower (2016) was not present in my top 2017 of movies.

Yosuke Takeuchi (The Sower)
Yosuke Takeuchi (Left)

My rather disappointing answer was that his movie was not present in my top 10 of 2017 because The Sower (2016) was released in 2016 and that thus did not consider it as a contender for the top 10 of 2017, the first top 10 I actually wrote for my blog. But, I added, that his splendid movie, if I had made a top 10 Japanese movies of 2016, would have been the winner. Yes, I said it, it’s official, the best Japanese movie of 2016 is The Sower (2016).

With its natural flowing cinematography, topnotch acting, and its attention to sound, The Sower is able to provide a very touching palette of sincere human emotions. The emotionality – not sentimentality, is present in every shot of the narrative – residing in the silences par excellence. The Sower sensibly communicates the impossibility of living with a lie and the necescinematsity to express the truth to the Other/others and for the Other/others to symbolically acknowledge this truth. With The Sower Yosuke Takeuchi has proves himself to be a director with a clear vision and the talent to sincerely paint his vision on the silver screen. We can’t wait for his second cinematographical adventure in the human interest genre.

The joy of connecting, the joy of sharing one’s love of cinema.  

The beauty of welcoming communities is that enable one to connect on different level. At the most general level, such communities allow critics and directors to celebrate the beautiful art of the moving image. While many in Japan would still consider cinema as just form of low-art, as merely a form of entertaining the masses, the people in the indie-scene think differently. Their way of thinking is more in line with how the directors of the Japanese avant-garde movement thought about cinema.

At another level, a more concrete level, such communities bring you into contact with other directors and their work. One director I met through this meeting is Takahiro Sakata, director of Kuma Elohim (2018).

Takahiro Sakata (Kuma Elohim)
Takahiro Sakata (middle, next to Koji Segawa)

From the very moment we saw the trailer for his movie, he had my interest. As of yet, I had not had to opportunity to review Sakata’s movie, but, as he is aware of my desire to review his narrative, this opportunity might come sooner than I expect. The only thing we can do is share the trailer for Kuma Elohim (2018) and hope it will capture you desire to watch it as it did with me.





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