# How is the competition lineup different this year?
We have 15 titles competing, which is one less than last year. One thing that is unfortunate is that there are no Korean films in competition. And also, there are no “pure” Japanese films in competition: one made by a Japanese director. I’m happy that we have a Japanese film by an Indian director included, Anshul CHAUHAN’s "Bad Poetry Tokyo". I hadn’t heard of the director before, but he has lived in Tokyo for quite a long time and has made some short films. This is his first feature.
# Has Korean cinema been particularly hard to program?
It was just timing perhaps that we couldn’t get one Korean film in competition. But this year we had our first Korean film as our opening film. Korean films are sometimes difficult to invite because they have commercial value in Japan. Many Japanese distributors are constantly in negotiation for recent Korean films. Despite this, we are happy to have a Korean opening and to introduce "Bitch on the Beach" and “Night Working” in our Indie Forum section. We are very lucky to be able to introduce a total of six Korean films this year.
# Why highlight the Philippines in a catalogue essay?
I wrote that a key characteristic of our Philippines’ programming is that we’ve never invited Lav DIAZ or Brillante MENDOZA films. It doesn’t mean that I hate their films. Their films are also very great. But even if we don’t invite their films, it is sure that they will be screened at some festivals in Japan, or even commercially released. Last year, there was a big change regarding the distribution of Filipino cinema. Four or five films were released in Japan last year. It’s a very big change. Before last year, there might be only one Filipino film distributed. The films released in 2017 were DIAZ’s "The Woman Who Left", MENDOZA’s "Ma’ Rosa", Jun LANA’s "Die Beautiful", and Khavn’s “Ruined Heart” starring ASANO Tadanobu. There was also “Blanka”, which is not a pure Filipino film; it’s directed by a Japanese filmmaker. So the situation has changed. I’m always trying to prioritize new things, to help establish national cinemas. I want to insist that there are so many great Filipino films other than the ones directed by DIAZ and MENDOZA. This is what I have tried to do for the past five years. Fortunately, every year the audience size for our Filipino films is increasing.
# Have you seen any other trends in Japan this past year?
Outside of Filipino cinema, there is nothing so drastic. One thing that is going to be seeing a change soon though is Hong Kong cinema. In recent years, most of the commercially-released Hong Kong films in Japan were made for the China market. Only the big budget commercial films are getting released. But last year, "Ten Years" was commercially released after it received its international premiere here in Osaka. A Japanese distributor bought the rights and released it. This year, another Hong Kong film called "29+1", which won our Audience Award last year, will be released. So, from last year, some Hong Kong films with a very local flavor are being picked up by Japanese distributors and getting exposure. I’m very happy about that.
# How is this local flavor reflected in your guests?
This year, the Osaka Asia Star award recipient is Chapman TO. For many directors in Hong Kong, the easiest choice is to make films for the China market. But he hasn’t done that. He’s a very famous actor, but he’s always challenging himself so as to not be stereotyped. As well as being talented as an actor, he is also talented as a director. He previously made "Let’s Eat" in Malaysia, his directorial debut that we screened here two years ago. His new film "The Empty Hands" shows a big growth of his talent.
# Outside of the Philippines, what Southeast Asian cinema excites you?
This is our first time to show new feature films from Cambodia. Before we only screened a classic title like "12 Sisters (Puthisen neang kongrey)”(1968). Actually, the film industry in Cambodia has some similarities to the Philippines in that there is a representative director called Rithy PANH. When people think of Cambodian cinema, they think of his movies. This year we introduced two Cambodian feature films in our lineup. We want to tell the audience that there are so many promising directors when it comes to Cambodian cinema. By chance the same actress, DUCH Lida, appears in both films and she was able to attend. I’m afraid I don’t yet know much about Cambodian cinema, but I believe that it’s not just arthouse films from Cambodia that are interesting. They’re might even be a new film movement starting in Cambodian cinema.
# What about the Japanese films in your selection?
Thanks to the foreign journalists attending Osaka Asian Film Festival each year, the Japanese film selection is getting more attention outside Japan. Because of the foreign media coverage, the Japanese indie directors are starting to consider the Osaka Asian Film Festival as a gateway for their films. "Bamy", which we screened last year, is the biggest surprise. Nobody knew the film or its director TANAKA Jun. But there were some reviews after last year’s edition and an Italian festival in Turin invited it to its competition section. And the film suddenly becomes well known around the world. A few months ago, the film got a commercial release in Japan because of this exposure.
# And what about Chinese cinema in your lineup?
Actually, this year there is an associate Chinese Film Festival event that took place during our first three days. We already knew that they were going to show about ten films, so we didn’t invite many Chinese films ourselves. Their event toured from Tokyo to Osaka to Nagoya.
# How is the festival’s funding situation?
Our funding from the Osaka City Government represents less than 50% of our total budget. That is actually my idea on how to best run a festival. We are always trying to find other financial sources, and these outside sources have increased. But this year, it is the first that the level of this outside funding has fallen. So, financially speaking, it’s been a very hard year. For example, there are less screening venues than in previous years for the festival. I’m still trying to make the festival look gorgeous, to have many events and to create something interesting. The number of feature films has decreased. If you look at the catalogue carefully, you will notice there are many short films. If I talk about the number of films, the share of short films has increased to compensate. A lucky thing this year is that a number of foreign government organizations really wanted to help us, from Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines and Hong Kong. Singapore is also supporting us. This is the first time that the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) is financially backing us.
# How do you collaborate with other countries’ agencies?
When we work with foreign governments, I let them know the meaning of a film festival. We are completely independent and must remain independent. We cannot be influenced by politics or we would lose the trust of the audience. We focus on bringing quality films. This is the very first thing I explain to them. We are not political at all. And every year I make sure to explain it again. We are fully independent when it comes to programming. That is why they have never been any problems.
# But you still have to satisfy film quotas by country?
Yes. But for me it’s not a big problem. I always have more titles than the quota demands that I want to introduce in Osaka. This year, the Philippines’ FDCP suggested a retrospective title. I was only really thinking about new films, but they told me that this year is the 100th anniversary of Philippines Cinema. So we totally agreed to include one classic film, from Mario O’HARA.
# Will you continue to show retrospective titles?
Yes, I’m thinking that I will continue to introduce more titles in future editions. This year is an experiment. I know there are many Philippines’ classics so I want to introduce them but I’m also very happy to introduce other Asian classics if there are available screening materials. In the Philippines, ABS-CBN is active restoring prints, so it’s a good opportunity to introduce Filipino classics.
# Do you travel much to follow Asian film trends?
I don’t like to travel! Last year, I only attended festivals in Busan, Bucheon, Taipei and Hong Kong. For other countries, I try to study what the local film critics are saying. We contact the production companies and sales agents also. Recently, I’m happy that there are many submissions to the festival. This year, the percentage of submissions grew more than 50%. There were so many submissions that we were short of first-round jury members to preview the films. There were no submissions from some countries like Nepal and Brunei, but otherwise they came from across Asia. Because Filipino films have performed very well here in Osaka, there were so many submissions from there. In fact our very last submission was Sigrid BERNARDO’s romantic comedy "Mr. & Mrs. Cruz".
# Do you have dream guests that you still want to bring?
For us, Vietnam’s Veronica NGO is someone we have been inviting on consecutive years. Last year, she had another film in Osaka - action-fantasy “Tam Cam: The Untold Story” - but she was too busy to attend. But we hope to have her in Osaka at a future edition.
- Interview conducted by Stephen Cremin