Sunday, July 13, 2008

NYAFF is Over!

It’s been a week since the NYAFF came to a close and I finally had the energy and ambition to pop my head into the sun today and see if the world was still there. In fact, I went over to the Japan Society for their final day of Japan Cuts and happily watched Sakuran and A Gentle Breeze in the Village. It was rather nice being able to just sit and watch a film without a worry on my mind. I enjoyed both films as well – Sakuran is mounds of colorful style that easily overcomes a fairly generic plot about a young girl sold to a Geisha house who swears to become the top of the hit parade. The colors just pop off the screen and the modernistic music is a pleasure to listen to. When I had heard way back that Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls) had been cast as the spunky Geisha it sounded like an odd choice but the film isn’t really trying to be authentic – its pop sensibilities are very contemporary and she fits the role perfectly. I had seen Gentle Breeze on a screener before but I liked it even more on the big screen. As the title implies it is a gentle, lyrical and very affectionate look at life and friendships in tiny town Japan. Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita of Linda, Linda, Linda fame he shows once again that he can find substance and understated emotion in a story in which the plot means much less than the mood and the characters who inhabit his world. Like Linda it is full of small scenes that don’t add up to much on their own but have a cumulative effect that leaves you happily misty eyed by the end.

So I should report that NYAFF 08 was a success for the most part – at least successful enough to likely ensure that there will be a NYAFF 09 unless we all come to our senses. Sometimes it feels like doing this for seven years is enough – but at the same time who else is going to bring these films to New York City? And it’s the only way I can think of to watch loads of near impossible to see Asian films for free! Really, all you Asian film fans out there should start your own festival if you want to see films – as long as you aren’t living in NYC! At the same time I am beginning to think that Asian film popularity in the US peaked a couple of years ago – I see it in our numbers, the lack of chatter on the Internet and the fact that a few Asian focused DVD distributors have gone belly up recently. Basically the only films we can guarantee to do well box office wise are Japanese films and Johnny To films – and Johnny doesn’t make enough films each year for us to fill up our schedule! If only. It almost killed me that my least liked film in the festival Dainipponjin sold out twice and the two King Naresuan films cried out for a bigger audience. I had my doubts that an American audience would come to see an epic six-hour Thai historical film, but I certainly thought NYC would have a lot more adventurous film goers than turned out. Kind of sad really because these are two of the best films I have seen in years and the people who came almost gave them all 9’s and 10’s on the ballot. On the other hand I hadn’t expected much of an audience for the quiet Love on Sunday films and I was right but it was really nice that more than a few people came up to me later in the fest and thanked me for bringing them to the festival.

I only had a chance to sit in and watch seven films – the King N. and Love on Sunday films just because I liked them so much – but I also finally saw three movies that I never got around to before – Mad Detective, Sparrow and Kala – and what do you know – my Subway comrades choose some good films without my help! Mad Detective is perhaps a bit outlandish but it is such pure To style that I fell in love with it and seeing Lau Ching-wan in a topnotch To film again made my toes tingle with joy. On the other hand I wasn’t as crazy about Sparrow as other folks who came out after the first screening raving about it. Perhaps that set my expectations too high – because though I liked it a lot I never quite bought into the mood that To was trying to set – it just felt a bit too frothy and forced to me – but it’s a film I really want to see again on DVD because in truth I am not sure I really understood everything that took place. I loved Kala – setting a film noir in Indonesia with supernatural touches was just classical to me on many levels. The locales, shadows and camera angles are right out of Maltese Falcon with a little Death Note thrown in. I’d love to see more films like this coming out of Indonesia.

By the way, this year we had our first Jury Award for Best Film and a few other awards that the jury came up with themselves. The jury consisted of five individuals who are either film critics, film authorities or film makers. This is what they decided on.

Winner - New York Asian Film Festival Grand Prize
SAD VACATION directed by Shinji Aoyama

Honorable Mention for Best Ensemble Cast

Best Visual Achievement
Lee Myung-Se for M
Joko Anwar for KALA

Outstanding Achievement
Koji Wakamatsu for UNITED RED ARMY

Best Debut Feature
Ryo Nakajima for THIS WORLD OF OURS

We also had our usual Audience Award and it’s interesting to note how little intersection there is with the most popular films with the audience and those the jury picked. This year we are announcing the Top Five films out of the 43 films we showed. It was an extremely tight race with the winner just barely nudging out the 2nd and 3rd film.

1. Fine Totally Fine (my prediction in March when I saw this at HKIFF)
2. Always 2
3. King Naresuan 2
4. Public Enemy Returns
5. Sparrow

I should mention that we showed Always 1 as well just for those folks who missed it two years ago when it won our Audience Award. It wasn’t eligible this year but we accidentally gave out ballots and collected them – so out of curiosity I tallied them up – and guess what? It would have won again!

I don’t think I will be updating this Blog too much in the near future though you never know. I am pretty much Asian filmed-out and have been really wanting to watch some dozen Lubitsch films that I picked up recently. I watched To Be or Not to Be with Carole Lombard and thought why can’t Hollywood write smart witty sharp dialogue like that any more?

Thanks to all of you who showed up at NYAFF!


Anonymous said...

Nice photos Brian! I had no idea that there are kids in Pakistan with blonde hair!

Oh thanks and congrats on putting together another great festival. As always you guys showed a ton of great movies and if I had the stamina I would've stuck around for King Naresuan!

Oh, and big thanks for bringing the Love on Sunday movies to NYC!

Brian said...

I already knew you weren't man enough for King Naresuan but I had hopes others were!

Did you stick around for Kisaragi today and if so what did you think of it?

eliza bennet said...

Great slides and I think you should post more of them :)

Very glad to learn that the festival went OK and I hope the next one will be just as successful.

You should write about non Asian films too (maybe at your regular site) I'm sure there are people who never heard of them and would give them a try after reading a review :)

The lack of East Asian films turned me to Bollywood and even though I liked and enjoyed Indian films before now I'm a full convert. Also please note that it is your site (and Amitabh in Khakee) who got me interested in the first place!

YTSL said...

Glad to see a new entry on your blog -- and like its contents too.

Funny to read that you didn't care for "Dainipponjin" since it was a film that I recall reading a rave from someone previewing the Subway Fest, so much so that it got me curious to check out that film.

And FWIW, agree with you re "Sparrow". Although I love the locations it used (same with "Triangle"), I haven't thoroughly enjoyed viewing a Johnnie To film since "Exiled".

On a brighter note: Your comments have made me interested in checking out the "King Naresuan" films -- especially since you didn't like "Suriyothai" as much as me.

And re the photos your dad took in Pakistan: they're great, with many being very evocative indeed. So is the blonde kid in the picture you or somebody else? ;b

Dr. Stan Glick said...

Having written for Asian Cult CInema magazine since 2000, I decided to start a blog in 2006. My first review (ACF 002) was of Oh! My Zombie Mermaid which I saw at NYAFF 2006. Last year was the first time I was able to cover the festival in some depth, and it was terrific. This year's was even better. (And I would still say that even if I hadn't won the Mega Supreme Enormous Prize Pack before the July 3rd screening of Tokyo Gore Police!) The efforts of the entire Subway Cinema crew are truly appreciated. Asian Film fans such as myself hope you'll have the energy, sponsor support and overall where-with-all to keep the NYAFF going for years to come.

Anonymous said...

I didn't stick around for Kisaragi because I was too tired.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fine, Totally Fine but I liked Adrift in Tokyo just a bit more. Was there much love for Adrift in the voting?

Brian said...

Adrift was number 6 in fact! It made me wonder if we get slightly different audiences at JS vs IFC because at IFC it did ok in the ballotting but at JS it cleaned up.

Stan - thanks for coming and covering us - for others here is his blog address. Stan has been writing about Asian films for a long time. Also check out the swag he won on our last day at IFC when we had to get rid of everything!

Eliza - as I convert more of these slides I will post some up though not ones of family or such but just scenes - haven't really gotten to Turkey yet! Not sure he was still doing slides at the time. And yay for Bollywood! I just gave one of our volunteers an extra copy I had of Khakee when she told me she liked BW films.

YTSL - ya I initially gave Michael a hard time for his Sparrow review in BC but after seeing it I had to tell him I generally agreed with it - just too light on its feet - literally and figuratively - but people really liked it. Oh yes - that is me in my much younger cuter days! If you remind me before I set sail for Asia again I will bring you screeners of King N. I think you will love them.

Brian said...

YTSL - oh forgot to mention that the thing that Paul told me about Dainipponjin is that if you know the premise going in to the film it is much better and funnier - but going in cold as I did and as he did the first time he saw it, the first 25 minutes are painfully slow. In the mockumentary its just some schlump of a fellow being interviewed and its really boring because you wonder why - but he tells me that if you know he is a super hero then there are loads of funny references to that. I'll take his word for it because I have no desire to see it again and it did fairly well in the audience voting.

Buma said...

Unless you decide to go national with your festival, I think you have laid a pretty strong foundation for an event that will last for many more years.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. The countries might all decide to stop making good movies for a few years just to mess with us. But my guess is, all things go in cycles, and I think Korea will come back strong again. China I believe will also get better over time (i think they are particular touchy this year due to the olympics, economy, and the resultant international focus). Hong Kong on the other hand ...

Anyway, congratulations on another great year. It's a trip seeing you guys every year, like a high school reunion without all the bitterness.

I'm glad I saw "Fine Totally Fine". Maybe you can get YoshiYoshi as a guest next year. I'm sure he will get a kick out finding out he has so many American fans. I think I gave the movie an 8 or 9 (and yes, I gave Always a 10 too). I missed seeing the audience award winner for the last 2 years, so I'm really glad that I didnt miss it this time. But I am bummed about missing the jury award winner "Sad Vacation". It was on my list but I just couldnt make the schedule work.

I thought Sparrow was a great movie. But I can see why some people would have a little difficulty with it, especially given your expectations when the name Johnnie To is attached to it. I wouldnt quite compare it to a "religious-experience-quality sex" ala Grady (, but it was still an absolute joy to watch.

A little tired of reading subtitles, huh ? :-)

Well, I guess you deserve a break from Asian film for a bit. But do keep up with the blog and let us know what you are doing.

Nice pics of Pakistan. I'm guessing they are early 70's ? What is that thing you are sitting on, just a piece of log or is that really a boat ?

Brian said...

Buma - early 70's! I wish I was that old in the early 70's - try late 50's and not that I actually remember sitting there but I think those are definitely boats.

As to Grady's comments you have to realize that most of his sex takes place in a stale dark room with people watching - so it is akin in many ways to seeing a film in a theater - only much much shorter and less popcorn being eaten. Just kidding. I know nothing about Grady's sex life and want to keep it that way!

Honestly, I think the fest will die a natural death one of these days - when enough of us just walk away from it because we have other obligations in our lives. Its not institutionalized like nearly every other film fest out there and so when we go its all over - though hopefully others may start up their own fest - its really not that difficult - you just have to devote a big chunk of your life to it without getting much in return. Who wouldn't want to do that?

Anonymous said...

We'll, you've certainly developed a brand with the NYAFF and I was wondering how would you describe your typical NYAFF attendee? Asian? Non-asian? Film geeks or casual moviegoer? From what I've observed you guys seem to attract a cross section of people but you were there practically every day so I wanted to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and I certainly believe that JS attracts a slightly different crowd then the IFC.

Things I Love about Japan said...

I'm glad Fine, Totally Fine won the Audience Award; the first Always was a huge disappointment, and I still don't see the hype about it.

A lot of these movies would be impossible for me to see (or at least I'd have to wait a ridiculously long time for an English-subtitled DVD), so I'm super grateful for film festivals such as NYAFF.

Anonymous said...

I just want to second things i love about japan's sentiments. If it weren't for you guys it would've certainly been impossible to see alot the Japanese movies that you screened with english subtitles because the Japanese region 2 dvds simply didn't include them. Off the top of my head here are some of the movies that you guys screened that have a japanese r 2 dvd but without english subs:

- Love on Sunday
- Love Sunday 2
- Adrift in Tokyo
- Like a Dragon

Brian said...

"Your typical attendee"?

Hmmm - good looking, smart, hip, fashion conscious, young articulate, well off - or so we tell our sponsors! In reality, people with nothing better to do! I don't know - I only look at the good looking women of which there are many. As to race - it really depends on the film - certain Korean films get loads of Koreans, same with Japanese films - but films like Sukiyaki, Tokyo Gore, Sparrow get a real mix of everyone.

Always - I love this film but its easy to see people not liking it - it tries so hard to be heartwarming that as one fellow told me he felt cheap after seeing it - I asked him if he was going to see Always 2 - of course he replied - you may feel used but for many its a good way to be used. The director (who is about the nicest guy in the world and who is dying to make a Samurai film) knows this sentimental genre to the T and hits it square time after time and he is a real craftsman in detail and look which is why I like this film so much. If you have seen any of the Japanese family dramas from the 50's and I don't mean Ozu but ones that appealed to your average theatergoer back then you can see where Always is coming from - its a real homage to those films and to a simpler time in Japan before they became the economic colossal they are today and lost a lot of their sense of community.

sbk said...

Hi Brian,

Happy to hear you had another successful festival.

Thoroughly enjoyed looking at your dad's slides from long ago and far away. Hope you find more to show us.

Also I would enjoy reading non Asian film reviews if you feel like writing them.

"Sparrow" was a little disappointing as it seemed to be trying too hard. Also the music seemed intrusive to me rather than complimentary to the action. Too bad as it's the kind of role and movie Simon Yam does so well. I kept thinking of him in Ringo Lam's "Looking for Mr. Perfect" which was fun to watch.

Ngo said...

Hi Brian,

Thank you and the whole Subway Cinema crew for keeping the flame lit for another year.

Thank you in particular for talking me into seeing the Love on Sundays and Naresuans. Total opposites and totally awesome in a way that H'wood just can't seem to do these days.

Anonymous said...

Any celebrity attendees spotted this year? I know one year one of the subway guys tried to pass a NYAFF program to Lou Reed and he just growled at him. I believe Dan told me that a notable filmmaker from Indonesia showed up to one of the Kala screenings.

Brian said...

No - irritatingly we never get celebrities - and plently live in the neighborhood - maybe they only go places when they think there are papparatzi around. I keep hoping Uma will come see something some day -I'd even comp her!

Its odd how many people have emailed me to thank us for King N. - especially considering how few people there were in the audience!

SBK - did you see Sparrow at our fest? Did I somehow miss you? I feel so bad if thats the case.