The twentieth Japanese Film Festival (JFF) has drawn to a close for another year! Even a month after the festival has ended, there’s still a lot of work to be done (receipts to tally, papers to shuffle, survey data to input—). It’s been an amazing experience being a part of the team working behind the scenes to bring this massive event to life, even more so because it was my first job after graduating from university. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing—as anyone in the events industry will tell you—but the good has definitely outweighed the bad.
Earlier in the year, a younger, more desperate me had been roaming from one job site to another. Between agonising over the syntax of numerous cover letters and writing and rewriting the details of my CV, it was approaching June by the time I turned to volunteer work. I had to give my stir-crazy mind something else to do other than sit in front of a lit screen all day. So I signed up for volunteer alerts from several places, including The Japan Foundation, Sydney not expecting to hear back very soon. My friends had very reliably informed me that competition for volunteer opps here was fierce—though apparently that was exaggerated, because I soon scored a chance to help out at a local kendo event. That was where I first met the Arts and Culture team. I’m still not sure how I convinced them to give me a chance at working on the festival when I’m about as socially adept as that guy from Creepy.
At this point, I was aware of the Japanese Film Festival but I’d missed my chances to participate in previous years. So colour me intensely curious the first day I got to step behind the “STAFF ONLY” sign and greet everyone as a co-worker for the first time. What kind of people were behind this hugely successful event, I wondered?
It’s a small team of seven, all very welcoming to the timid newbie.
My initial task as office gopher was to write blurbs for the classic films which would be screened at the Art Gallery of NSW. “Okay,” I thought, “that’s easy.” I might not be locquacious in person but I am in writing! But then I was told that all the classics were stored on film – actual film – and that the office did not have an appropriate projector to screen them on. Drat, there went my hopes of getting some free screenings in.
What started as a proof-reading and editing job later evolved into other tasks. That included sending mail, following up guests lists, and using that demonic device known as a ‘phone’. Everyone’s easy humour helped to settle me in and the dragonfire I expected for the mistakes I made never came.
Hot chocolate and an occasional sneaky treat from the communal snack table kept me going through the early days of the festival. I don’t remember how much digital and postal mail I sent or how many boxes I ripped up for poster backing, but the weeks flew by. It got quiet when the others flew out to Brisbane and Perth to begin their JFF runs, and then it got frantic again when we all realised that the Sydney JFF opening night was that coming Thursday!!
In the end, the festival didn’t collapse around our ears. (A lot of posters did though. Frequently.) The film trailer compilation almost didn’t make it to the opening night on time (my bad) and several movies almost didn’t play, but Jaryd’s Volunteer Army made sure everything ran smoothly on the public front. Thanks for helping us look good, guys – and not looking too bad yourselves!
While I’m proud of my contribution as a whole, the best moment for me had to be when a line I wrote for the blurb of the opening night film was quoted by the Event Cinemas representative before the film’s screening:
“Sometimes it takes an act of nature to bring a family together.”
There’s few things a writer asks for in life. Having one of your written lines quoted in a public speech has to be amongst the top of the list.
Despite the ups and downs, I’m pretty sure the whole team enjoyed bringing the festival together and I, for one, am glad to have been given a chance to be a part of it. Here’s to next year!
My film tastes are pretty wide-ranging. The films I picked as my top three aren’t in any particular order and are the ones I like most of their particular genres in this festival.
A story about a man, Takuji Kameoka, who has only ever played the supporting/extras roles in films. While the narrative meanders at times (it IS a slice of life film) those who are patient enough to see it through to the end will find an incredibly poignant conclusion to Kameoka’s story.
I like this film because it speaks to all the people who try and try to make their mark on the industry and yet always fail for some reason or another. Here is someone who excels at always being “second”, so to speak. While Kameoka dreams of being the main character in his stories, this film questions whether that’s the best path for him. Many films tell us to strive for success but few tell us to be content with accepting happiness where it can be found. The Actor doesn’t ever favour one or the other and it leaves us to interpret the ending ourselves. Whether we pity Kameoka or otherwise depends on our personal views of success: on the one hand, he got a chance to work with his favourite director; on the other, it was not as the main character, as he had always dreamed.
At first glance, Pink and Gray is about two friends, ‘Gotchi’ and ‘Riba’, and their struggles to make it big in the acting world. This changes after the surprise twist in the movie, which flips all your assumptions on its head and makes you realise that it’s never really been about Gotchi AND Riba, it’s always been about Riba. Some people may take it to be a cheap trick, but it’s not done on a whim. It forcibly separates the two friends’ personal stories before bringing them back together for an emotional climax. While it’s easy to pass off as a typical story of fame and jealousy, Pink and Gray does something different by telling it from the point of view of someone who didn’t come into fame on his own.
This film is here because of its unusual conclusion. Animation has always been seen as a children’s medium, which means everyone has to get a happy ending at the end of the day. While that’s still true with Rudolf the Black Cat, it comes with a bittersweet cost. Many people may not like the twist this film takes but that would ignore all of the character development Rudolf goes through until that point. It’s a coming-of-age story disguised as a cute kid’s film and that is why I consider this to be one of the top films in the JFF 2016 line-up.