It’s a family affair at 2014 Eiga Sai
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2014 - 12:00am

An elderly man dresses as a robot to help a computer technician save his job.

A woman raises two “wolf children” after having an affair with a werewolf.

A former funeral director offers his services at a makeshift morgue after the 3.11 earthquake disaster.

Yup, it’s Japan cinema time, and these are some of the stories lined up for this year’s Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival, screening from July 3 to 17 at Shangri-La Cineplex Cinema 2, a time of year after the April cherry blossoms are long gone, but Japanese cinema makes its way to Filipino audiences.

The free festival is meant as a cultural slice of life, so it’s unusual for Eiga Sai flicks to court controversy. This year’s no different, with a stated emphasis on “family” themes, apparently after a few “violent” offerings last year raised some feathers (though that’s a stretch: most titles were PG-13 at most). There is, however, an underlying theme driving many films this year: surviving after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and its aftershocks.

The festival kicks off this year with Homeland, about a family brought together in the post-nuclear meltdown setting of the Fukushima plant disaster.

There’s also Reunion, about the efforts of a funeral director to bring some closure to disaster victims by running a morgue in a school gymnasium. It promises to be affecting in the way that Departures, the 2008 Oscar hit about Japanese funeral practices, was.

And it goes without saying: you will need a clutch of Kleenex to get through some of these features.

Though we got only a glimpse of the festival before it opens, the images alone promise a wide-eyed take on modern Japanese society, from documentaries (Hearts Together, about jazz pianist Bob James’ collaboration with Japanese pop singer Seiko Matsuda) to historical drama (Fly, Dakota, Fly, based on a true post-WW2 incident) to anime and fantasy (Wolf Children, Symphony in August). According to Japan Foundation assistant director Yukie Mitomi, which stages the festival: “In the past few years, Japan and the Philippines experienced their share of natural disasters and accidents. After these events, people came to realize the value of family again.”

Edgy cinema has never been the domain of Eiga Sai, as Mitomi acknowledges: “We sometimes try to challenge, but this year, since we’re trying to reach as wide an audience as possible, we play on the safe side.”

Project coordinator Rolando Samson says the Japan Foundation doesn’t necessarily shy away from controversy (“We’re not only here to show the beauty, we’re here to show the real situation”), but notes commonality between cultures is a bigger focus:  “We have a lot of things in common, even the catastrophes, and of course the values of family” coming together in times of hardship. “The films try to bridge the cultural gap,” he adds, with some — Homeland, Reunion, Hospitalite — featuring Filipino characters.

For this year’s fest, Samson says, “We selected films that reflect recent experiences of the Japanese people during these disasters.” He notes several films depict everyday details of people picking up the pieces after catastrophe strikes. “We can learn a lot from how another culture responds to catastrophes.”

As always, the Eiga Sai Film Festival is presented free of charge. For information on the 16 films being screened from July 3-17, call Shangri-La at 320-2597 or visit Japan Foundation at www.jfmo.org.ph.

BOB JAMES EIGA SAI EIGA SAI FILM FESTIVAL EIGA SAI JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL HEARTS TOGETHER JAPAN AND THE PHILIPPINES JAPAN FOUNDATION ROLANDO SAMSON SEIKO MATSUDA YEAR
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