Yoshihiro Ito

Five Films to Watch at the Shinsedai Cinema Festival

The term "shinsedai" means "new generation", a befitting name for the latest addition to Toronto's film festival circuit. The Shinsedai Cinema Festival kicks off its first edition on Friday with a promising lineup of fresh independent cinema from Japan.

Hosted by the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, the Shinsedai Cinema Festival is screening 24 innovative new works over a three day period - a mix of features, shorts, and docs. While the films have been carefully selected by organizers for a solid inaugural programme, here's a rundown of five recommendations for the weekend well worth the $12 admission price.

Freeter's Distress
Part diary, part social commentary, Hiroki Iwabuch documents his life as an overworked and underemployed temp in Freeter's Distress. At 23, he has fallen into a class of working poor like many other educated young people in Japan (a condition so common that it has a term: "freeter"). The documentary gives a first-hand account of the everyday challenges of surviving on a basic salary (and no benefits) in a very wealthy country. Iwabuch's film works both as a critique of the current economic climate in Japan and as a personal account of poverty and isolation. I was most interested in watching his intimate footage of lonely walks through Tokyo at night, cycling to the assembly line job, and his reaction to a conversation with a more successful classmate in a bar.

Bunny in Hovel
A young man returns to his countryside home after a unexplained three-year absence to find his sister and mother unchanged. After reacquainting himself with the family and its dark secrets, he decides to take action. This is the first of three very mysterious films in the "Peaches Programme".

Vortex & Others: 5 Short Films by Yoshihiro Ito
While yes, technically this is not one film, I probably grew to like Yoshihiro Ito's films by seeing this full body of his work. In Wife's Knife, a man develops a sudden and irrational fear of his wife. A tourist becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman crawling in the streets in Non-intervension Game. Of course it ends badly, but just how badly was a surprise. Plum Suicide is an armless (woman has no arms, man has broken arms) post-apocalyptic romance. Yoshihiro Ito will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening.

Electric Button (Moon and Cherry)
Tadokoro meets Mayama in an erotic writing club at the University. She "uses his virginity" as racy research for her next story. Electric Button at first comes across as a frattish wet dream, but gains a bit of substance later on when Tadokoro learns some unexpected lessons.

Right Place
An exercise in symmetry, silence, and style, Right Place won the Young Directors' Award for Best Short Film at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for Kosai Sekine. The film is about a perfectionist who crosses the line on his shift at a convenience store. I'm hoping to catch this one for the feature film that it's billed with, Thunderfish, described as a "moody and sexy indie horror film".

While I usually include a "Not So Recommended" section in festival previews, let me just note that if there were one here it would include Aruongaku. Subtitles may have helped (there were none on the copy that I saw, but there should be in screening version) because the only thing I took from this profile/concert/rehearsal film about the 30-year-old composer and artist Takagi Masakatsu, is that he is successful.

The festival closes with a free roundtable discussion on Being "Indie" in Japan with guest filmmakers and curators on Sunday, August 23rd at 4:30pm .

The Shinsedai Cinema Festival runs from August 21st to 23rd, 2009 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 6 Garamond Court (just off from the Don Valley Parkway and Wynford Drive). Tickets and passes available online, at Eyesore Cinema (801 Queen Street West, 2nd Floor) or Things Japanese (128 Harbord Street).

Still from Vortex courtesy of The Shinsedai Cinema Festival.

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