We’re used to Third Window Films bringing us some of the best in contemporary Japanese cinema (as well as a few classics too), but this time they’ve gone even further and let us in on the ground floor as we meet three new directors on the rise. This project was also a first as it took the unusual route of going to Kickstarter to fund its production, albeit following a pleasingly straightforward pre-order system. The three directors featured in this set all come from different backgrounds and are working in very different genres, and as such they represent the level of diversity in modern Japanese indie filmmaking and each prove they have something very different and particularly idiosyncratic to offer in their later careers.
The first of these up and coming directors is Nagasa Isogai, who has two films featured in the set - her student film My Baby and her longer short film The Lust of Angels. My Baby tells the slightly crazy story of two sisters whose sibling rivalry intensifies as they both plan to have children of their own. Made to very strict guidelines, it’s shot in a now old fashioned looking 4:3 screen ratio with non-sync sound and has a strangely ‘70s-esque feeling with its odd, melodramatic concept and mostly straightforward shooting style.
Similarly, The Lust of Angels takes on a lot of baggage from ‘70s exploitation cinema and though shot in a more modern feeling 2.35:1 widescreen, it still has a distinctly old school feeling. Taking its queue from the delinquent girl movies of the past, The Lust of Angels is a dramatic story about train groping and female revenge. Transfer student Yuriko accidentally catches the train to school, something which most girls don’t do owing to its reputation as a “groper train”, where she discovers fellow student Saori about to fall victim to just this unpleasant crime. However, unbeknownst to the others, Saori catches the train because she enjoys the attentions of the various perverts who ride it and even goes so far as to carry a special book which marks her out as desiring their attentions. Exploring such complicated themes as the differing reactions to burgeoning teenage sexuality, sexual abuse and sexual violence as well as female violence and revenge, The Lust of Angels is one of the more complex efforts in the set. However, first and foremost it works best as an exercise in genre and proves enjoyable both in that regard and in offering a good deal of promise for the future.
Next up is Kosuke Takaya, whose 27 minute short is the most straightforwardly comic selection on the bill. Made under the NDJC program which aims to give a helping hand to promising new Japanese directors, Buy Bling Get One Free is a humorous satire on the fashion industry. Its hapless protagonist Kamono is literally a fashion victim - much less interested in expressing himself than in fitting into a scene, Kamono is easy prey for a bunch of weird fashion cultists. While it is undoubtedly very funny (and totally packed with awesome puns), Buy Bling Get One Free is slightly hemmed in by the constraints of the NDJC programme. As such it may feel like a slighter effort than the other offerings in the set but it does still allow director Kosuke Takaya to show off a fair amount of skill which bodes well for the future.
The final and longest film included comes from Hirobumi Watanabe, whose 88 minute feature tells the surreal story of layabout Takashi who unexpectedly discovers he has a teenage half-sister he was previously completely unaware of. Takashi is a divorced father with no job and no hopes or plans for the future, but his sudden discovery of a little sister and the new-found responsibility of being a big brother prompts him into thinking about his life. Finally, he makes a decision but unfortunately it ends up involving drug smuggling, shady business and finally... aliens! And The Mud Ship Sails Away is definitely the most surreal film in the set - it starts off with a sort of Jarmuschian aloofness which is brought out by the relatively static camera and black and white photography, but towards the end this has been completely turned on its head. The last and strangest act takes on a Gilliam-esque level of absurdity with completely crazy, jagged camera action and bizarrely framed super close-ups. Some may feel the third act is simply too much - or at least too far removed from the relative naturalism of the rest of the film - but for those who like their movies surreal with a capital “S”, And the Mud Ship Sails Away is another excellent addition to weird cinema.
Alongside the films themselves, the package also offers interviews with each of the directors discussing how they got into film-making and more specifically how they came to make these particular films, as well as their general hopes for the future. Additionally, there’s also an interview with producer Shogo Tomiyama who’s the supervisor of the NJDC programme at the moment but is also famous for his involvement in the Godzilla franchise. This entire package was something of a labour of love for its producers and a fairly risky business venture - hence the initial need for Kickstarter. However, what The New Directors From Japan box set proves is that there is a wide and varied crop of new talent hovering just below the surface of contemporary Japanese cinema. Hopefully not the last boxset of this kind, each of the films presented has its own degree of promise and it will certainly be interesting to see how these burgeoning careers develop in years to come.