Interview with Japanese Film Festival Artistic Director, Mr Konomi

The Japanese Film Festival is, without a doubt, one of my favourite events of the year. Not only is it incredibly well organised, but the line up is always assured to be top notch. But what happens if you miss out on seeing one of your most anticipated films? Running from the 9th to the 13th of July 2014,  JFF ENCORE has got you covered!

You can now see some of the best, Academy Award winning Japanese films of recent years. I sat down to have a chat to Masafumi Konomi, Artistic Director of Japan Foundation Sydney, to find out what we can expect from JFF ENCORE.

Ryan: First of all, how did JFF Encore come to be? 

Mr Konomi: 2014 marks the 18th year of the Japanese Film Festival, our main event in the JFF calendar. Over the years, more than 300 titles from a range of genres have been enjoyed by audiences across Australia.

The Japanese Film Festival is traditionally held each year between October and December. As Artistic Director, I try to select the most exceptional and topical titles of that year when choosing films for the festival line-up. However, Japan’s principal film awards are only announced after the conclusion of our festival, and many in our audience miss the opportunity to see these films. That is why we have decided to hold encore screenings of hand-picked Japan Academy Award-winning films, in addition to the main festival later this year.

Do you think that the fact that these are all Academy Award winning films guarantees that they're top quality? 

Good films always leave an impression in people's minds. I think that each of the eight chosen titles is considered the best in their awarded categories for that particular year. A film reflects the culture and society of the age in which it has been set. So, at JFF Encore the audience will have the opportunity to follow a decade of film history in Japan.

Is this going to be an annual event like the JFF proper? 

There are 400 films made each year in Japan. The Japanese Film Festival is a big annual event, but if you miss that, there are no other opportunities throughout the year to see Japanese films on the big screen. So I would like to open up the opportunities, and I'm also thinking of other events. This year we focused on Academy Award-winning films; next time, maybe we can do something with anime films.

We've had interstate readers sending us jealous emails about JFF Encore. Is there any chance of this event expanding to other states? 

This is all dependent on our audiences. Generally speaking, it's very expensive to screen Japanese films, so the reality is that you can't run a film festival without an audience, which is probably true for any event. The more people come to the JFF, the more films we can screen in more cities. It's the audience that makes the JFF better, so spread the word and come along with your family and friends!

Considering how busy the Japan Foundation staff are with the usual Japanese Film Festival, how have you possibly found the time for JFF Encore? 

As you know, the JFF staff are extremely busy, especially from around August each year, which is why we decided to hold this event in the first half of the year. Luckily, the selected films for Encore have already been screened at the JFF, so we don't need to do as much work as the annual festival. However, with the digitalization of films in recent years, it's becoming increasingly difficult to screen old films which only exist in 35mm print. At JFF Encore, we are showing three films in 35mm print, so for film fanatics it's a rare opportunity not to be missed.

Which is your favourite film in Encore's line up? 

That's a very difficult question, because you're asking me to choose the very best film from the very best line up! Most of the films screened at the JFF, including the Encore titles, have received the Japan Academy Award for best picture, best original screenplay or best director. It's worth mentioning ‘Departures’, as it won both the Oscar and the Japan Academy Award in 10 categories AFTER it was screened as the closing film at the 12th JFF! Choosing the line-up is always one of my most difficult yet enjoyable tasks as Artistic Director—always keeping in mind which films may or may not win the Japan Academy Awards for that year. It's not just a matter of individual taste, and sometimes you have to make the ultimate choice. Interestingly though, films that appeal to the audience and to myself seem to change with the times. For example, ‘The Kirishima Thing' and 'Confessions' are films which probably would have neither won awards 20 years ago, nor would I have rated them so highly at the time. Japanese society, together with the people who live in it and their values, is constantly changing, and this seems to be reflected in the tastes and choices of film viewers.

So, to my personal favorites: they would be ‘Tokyo Tower’, ‘When the Last Sword is Drawn ’ and ‘The Kirishima Thing’. 

Finally, how long until we get some info about this years Japanese Film Festival line up? It's going to be difficult to top 2013! 

So far I've seen about 100 films, but there are many more which have yet to be released. So I would think that the program will be finalized around mid-August. It's very difficult to predict the next Japan Academy Awards winners, but the quality and entertainment value of this year's line-up is even better, so stay tuned and see you again this year, at the JFF Encore and the main festival!

Tickets for the Japanese Film Festival ENCORE are available now.

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