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May 03, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Nine

kano.jpg

The end is here. And yesterday, I briefly got to meet Ross Chen of the website Love HK Film which contains some very uncensored views mostly of Hong Kong film but also from the rest of Asia. Ross also works for Yesasia.com, a company that I helped personally subsidize, although with the increased number of screeners I currently get, plus the Asian films streaming at Netflix, I've been less dependent on them for getting those Asian movies I felt I needed simply see, if not write about on this site.

Lack of sleep and a three hour running time proved to be no problem with a 9:30 am screening of the Taiwanese baseball movie, Kano. Based on a true story, it's about a high school baseball from a farming village that went from losing every game, and never scoring, to making it to the Japanese finals in 1931. An experienced coach steps in to instill discipline on a team made of Japanese, Han Chinese and native Taiwanese students. It's a beautifully made film, with underdog heroes and a rousing musical score.

And while Coach Kondo reminds a couple of characters that the ability to play baseball has nothing to do with race, questions regarding Taiwan as a Japanese colony are avoided. For those more curious, there are some academic essays on the subject, but Kano would appear to be one of a handful of films that look at the period of Japanese rule in Taiwan with nostalgia. Kondo, by the way, is played by Masatoshi Nagase, a face that should be familiar, even if you don't know the name. Is this the best baseball movie, ever, as one critic has put it? Could be. One part of the film that I wish could be fixed would be to add subtitles at the end when there are small paragraphs about the real life coach and players. A brief history of the Kano team us available here.

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Getting down to the final stretch began with the debut film of Siege Ledesma, Shift. I don't know her exact age, but it is somewhere above twenty-five, but not a lot more than that. Film Festival president Sabrina Baracetti mentioned that Ledesma is the youngest director with a film presented at Udine. The story is mostly about the relationship between two call center employees, a young woman who gets criticized for acting masculine, i.e., assertive, and her mildly effeminate male friend. Estela considers herself straight, although her relationships with men are non-sexual and ambivalent. Her friend, Trevor, has left one boyfriend and is involved with another, yet is questioning what he thought was certain about his sense of sexual identity. And without sloganeering or underlining of any kind, Ledesma brings up the fluidity of sexual identity, in all of its possibilities.

What I also liked is that the scenes taking place in the call center are similar to my own work experiences, from the frustration of escalated calls, to the various speeches by management, and the ephemeral nature of such work when done as a third party on behalf of a corporate client. It's hard to imagine that anyone would not be attracted to Yeng Constantino, the actress who plays Estela, with her fire engine red hair, and her T-shirt that defiantly displays the word "Boy". Unlike some of the Filipino films that get festival play, the characters here are middle class, with the twenty-somethings connected by smart phones and social networks. The challenge is usually to be found when actually speaking to each other.

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There are also language, and cultural barriers in Thermae Romae II, when the bath house architect from ancient Rome, Lucius, pops up again in contemporary Japan, reunited with the perky would be manga artist, Mami. I saw the first first a couple of years ago. The new film is more of what was in the first film, but with what appears to be a bigger budget, but again with Lucius trying to adapt his discoveries of contemporary life to fit the then current technology of Second Century Rome.

Without the surprise of the first film, the continuation isn't as funny, but there are some good comic moments, especially in the beginning when Lucius pops up in a bath occupied by sumo wrestlers who are amused by this relatively thin foreigner who can't speak Japanese. There is also a cute scene involving a tiny elderly woman, delighted at introducing Lucius to the wonders of ramen noodles. It is fitting, though, that a film festival in Italy devoted to Asian films would feature a film that links Japan with Italy, even though the scenes in ancient Rome were shot in Bulgaria.

The festival ended with awards. I ended up not being able to take advantage of my status as a Black Dragon as I misplaced my ballot. The winning Black Dragon film was The Attorney which I will be seeing shortly in its DVD release. My choices are teetering between Aberdeen and Einstein and Einstein. I haven't seen the audience award winner, The Eternal Zero, and from what I've read, is a film that covers some of the same ground as The Wind Rises, but could court greater controversy.

Posted by peter at May 3, 2014 07:24 AM