Bakshi-esque Je Ne Sais Quoi, at the Japan Film Festival

It's stayed fresh even as the J-POP SUMMIT was mysteriously canceled this year.

The Japan Film Festival began as an offshoot of the J-POP SUMMIT Festival, which this writer has covered for SF Weekly and elsewhere since 2014. Although the Japan Film Festival is still at the New People Cinema in Japantown, J-POP relocated to Fort Mason in 2015. But on June 29, 2018, the J-POP organizers posted this to their Facebook page: “We regret to inform you that we have decided not to host our J-POP SUMMIT this year due to unforeseen circumstances in regards to our festival venue.”

The organizers declined requests from SF Weekly for a comment about what went down between them and Fort Mason, so we cannot say why the festival has been canceled. I have a personal theory regarding the encroachment of some of the most banal elements of the United States in what is supposed to be a celebration of Japanese culture, such as the 2016 debut of a (*yawn*) drag contest, because you don’t get enough of that tired minstrelsy every other day of the year in this fucking town.

Then there was the inescapable presence last year of scads of bros playing cup-and-ball under the aegis of Kendama USA, some of whom were given Guest Artist status. To be clear, these dilutions of Japanese culture probably aren’t why this year’s festival was canceled, but baseball-cap-wearing broheims cuppin’ balls didn’t make a strong argument for its continued relevance, either.

But thank goodness the Japan Film Festival is going strong. Its sixth big year kicks off with the latest anime feature from A Silent Voice director Naoko Yamada, Liz and the Blue Bird, a spinoff of sorts from the Crunchyroll-favorite series Sound! Euphonium.

Returning to San Francisco screens after its recent Roxie run is Masaaki Yuasa’s phantasmagoric anime The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, about a young woman’s very strange, none-too-sober journey through the nighttime streets of Kyoto. Retina-popping mindfucks have been Yuasa’s stock-in-trade at least as far back as his appropriately titled Mind Game in 2004, and although Night Is Short isn’t quite as visually unhinged, it has a certain 1970s, Bakshi-esque je ne sais quoi that is far from unwelcome.

Meanwhile, Masato Harada’s epic, live-action war film Sekigahara depicts the decades leading up to the key battle of 16th-century Japan, as well as the battle itself. The picture takes a while to get to the fireworks factory, but doesn’t disappoint when it does, and director Harada will be there in person to discuss his film. On the horror-comedy front, Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead manages to find new life in those most played-out of genres, found footage and zombies.

One of the most J-POP Summit-reminiscent gets this year is the North American theatrical premiere of the concert film Namie Amuro Final Tour 2018: Finally. Presented without subtitles — just like if you were really there! — the picture is, as the title suggests, a document of the pop idol’s final performance at the Tokyo Dome this past June, though her official, Logan’s Run-esque retirement won’t occur until her fortieth birthday on Sept. 16. Hopefully, neither Amuro nor the J-POP SUMMIT are gone for good.

Japan Film Festival, Sept. 28 – Oct. 7, New People Cinema


Five Other films and Film Festivals We’re Excited About

Legacy Film Festival on Aging
Sep. 14-16, 2018
Another three days of films from around the globe that showcase the often-challenging, sometimes profound process of growing older — which will even happen to you.

Science Fair
Oct. 5, 2018
A documentary following nine high school students as they deal with rivalries, setbacks, and raging hormones at an international science fair.

Women’s Adventure Film Tour
Oct. 21, 2018
A selection of unique films celebrating fantastic women doing extraordinary things. Yeah, yeah, MRAs, we know — where’s the Men’s Adventure Film Tour?

Doc Stories
Nov. 1-4, 2018
The fourth edition of the series featuring the year’s most noteworthy nonfiction works, some of which might even get Oscar’s attention! (Though most probably won’t.)

2018 Cinematografo International Film Festival
Nov. 8-11, 2018
A showcase for the best of modern Filipino and Filipino-American filmmaking talent, far beyond the unleashed machete maidens of yore.

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