Interview with TERUOKA Sozo, Programming Director, Osaka Asian Film Festival
# How many features did you invite this year?
I don't know the exact number, but the number of features is slightly down on last year. Including shorts, we have 58 titles this year compared to around 55 last year.
# Why is the competition so big with 16 films?
A big surprise for us this year was the number of submitted films and their quality. So we had more submissions, but there was also an increase in quality as well as quantity. This year, famous sales agents, producers and film directors submitted films, which is something new. Before this year, more than half of the films I discovered by myself. But this year, more than half of the films were submitted to the festival.
# Why do you think there was this change?
I also want to know! Perhaps thanks to the many international guests that promote the festival, we are becoming better known even if we are still small and young.
# Is that one reason why you bring more press this year?
This is a strategy because we also want the festival to be a gateway for Japanese films to go overseas. This year is the first time that we have funding from the JLOP fund of the Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). They are only focused on exporting films, not the importing of foreign films. But if we invite press that watch Japanese films, they'll be satisfied.
# Is it harder for Asian films to be distribute now in Japan?
It's a little bit more difficult. The most interesting recent example is Stephen Chow's "The Mermaid". It was only released in one theater in Tokyo, and for just one or two screenings per day. But there will be some changes in 2017. Three Filipino films are set to be distributed, which is a local record. But there are not the kind of Filipino films that we are bringing to Osaka. The films are Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, and [Jun Lana's] "Die Beautiful".
# Is that because the audience for Asian films is aging?
One of the reasons, yes. Another reason is that the distributors of Asian films in Japan don't want to take risks. They know how many Stephen Chow fans there are and they explicitly only target them. They don't try to grow the audience for Asian films. As another example, the blockbuster Korean film "Train to Busan" has been so successful across Asia, but it's not yet released here. It will open in the early summer, but what's disappointing is that the distributor is trying to hide that it's a Korean film! The Japanese title is a play on words that means something like "Infected Bullet Train". The younger generation of Japanese don't have a strong interest in Asian countries or in Asian culture. That is a key reason that Japanese films are more successful than foreign films.
# Why the focus on Thailand this year?
At the beginning, the idea didn't come from us. 2017 is the 130th anniversary of Japan-Thailand Diplomatic Relations. So the Thai government wanted to work with us. Of course, we also want to introduce many Thai films. So we found a way to work together and are doing a focus this year. It's the first time for the Osaka festival to work with the Thai government. We coordinated with the Thai Embassy in Osaka and they dealt directly with the foreign ministry and Thai film foundations. There are five Thai features; among the five, four are in sections other than the Thai focus including the competition.
# Why are there so many films from the Philippines?
The Filipino industry has been so fruitful in recent years. Also maybe because, three years ago, Cinema One Originals' film "SHIFT" won our grand prize and helped our festival become better known in the Philippines. So there were many submissions this year. One of the most difficult things was to reduce the number of Filipino films! If we judged just on quality, we'd have had to invite around 20! Our festival size is small, so if we had invited that many, it would look a bit too strange. So, it's difficult, and we invited only nine this year.
# Where else in Asia has particularly strong film production?
You can see that there are five Hong Kong films in competition. That is another significant thing for us. Generally speaking, as a programmer, we think that we should have variation with different countries more evenly represented, but this year I found so many new Hong Kong movies, so I had to show this movement. There are two world premieres from Hong Kong: Herman Yau's "77 HEARTBREAKS" and Fire Lee's "HUSBAND KILLERS". Both directors have previously attended the festival. I'm very happy about that continuity.
# Can you talk about the Opening and Closing Film choices?
For the opening and closing, for a few years now I've had a new idea. Previously, I was only thinking that we should bring some very big films - mainstream films - to open or close the festival. But, recently, I have a different concept. I have the intention to pick up smaller films to bookend the festival. If they are selected as the opening or closing films, these smaller titles can have many chances to get publicity. For example, throughout Osaka City Subway, we have the poster of our festival which specifically highlights the opening and closing films. So the titles are promoted spread city-wide. That is an important role for the film festival. If we were to just invite big films, it wouldn't be so creative.
# What is the idea about the section "In & Out of Work" ?
There are a few reasons. I find that if a film has a focus on work, a lost job, or searching for employment, it tends to very often be great. It's just my feeling. Another reason is that other festivals in Japan have missed showing so many great Asian films, including Malaysia's "JAGAT" and the Philippines' "APOCALYPSE CHILD", which are now both more than one year old. But I wanted a reason to still show them in 2017. And by having a special section, I can still introduce them to a Japanese audience. There's also some good timing involved. We're showing Yoshitaro Nomura's "THE REFUGEE" from 1955. The film begins in Kobe near Osaka, then most of the story takes place in China before ending on nearby Koya-san mountain, which is also nearby. So it's such a suitable film to show at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. Nomura is quite famous, but people always claim that this is not one of his better films. But I disagree. It's great and really touching. It also tells the story of people who have lost their jobs, so it really centers the special section.
# Do you have anything else in mind when programming?
I have two ideas in my mind always. I'm worried that the younger generation is less interested in other Asian countries and their cultures. I want to introduce Asia to them. Also, because my taste in Asian cinema is quite different from what is getting released theatrically in Japanese cinemas, I want to highlight this gap and present a different perspective on Asian cinema.
Interview conducted by Stephen Cremin