Japan’s Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival is the oldest nonfiction event in Asia, established in 1989. Held biennially, this year marks its 13th edition, which begins today, Thursday, October 10 and runs through next Thursday, October 17. In an area of the world with relatively few such dedicated events, the festival offers a special focus on regional and national documentary filmmaking, with supplementary international and retrospective programming. What follows are some brief highlights where possible, as the fest’s website offers only cursory information on the majority of its programming sections.
New Asia Currents showcases over a dozen new and recent docs from Japan and around the continent. Japanese selections include Mikami Chie’s THE TARGETED VILLAGE, about an Okinawa village that stands up against US military expansion plans that threaten their forest; and Ota Singo’s THE END OF THE SPECIAL TIME WE WERE ALLOWED (pictured), a hybrid project stemming from the suicide of the film’s protagonist. Chinese offerings include Gu Tao’s THE LAST MOOSE OF AOLUGUYA, the concluding part of a trilogy which follows one family of the ethnic Ewenki tribe forced to relocate from their forest home; Wang Erzhuo’s SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS, a portrait of the director’s beauty parlor owning aunt; and Li Xiaofeng and Jia Kai’s GOLD UNDERGROUND, a multiperspectival look at coal mining. Among the other titles are: Kamar Ahmad Simon’s ARE YOU LISTENING!, depicting an Indonesian coastal village facing a cyclone; Dwi Sujanti Nugraheni’s DENOK & GARENG, about Indonesian pig farmers; Roh Eun-ji and Go U-jung’s SUMMER DAYS IN BLOOM, following an HIV+ gay Korean couple; and Jewel Maranan’s TONDO, BELOVED: TO WHAT ARE THE POOR BORN?, an immersion into the life of a Filipino mother expecting her fourth child.
Several strands expressly highlight Japanese docmaking. Yamagata Rough Cut! presents five works-in-progress for public feedback, of which the most intriguing are Takahashi Ryosuke’s SURVIVAL CONFIRMATION, in which the director regularly follows his father’s request to make sure his grandparents are still alive; and Tanaka Kei’s MOON IN THE EVENING, a profile of the elderly residents of a housing complex. Perspectives Japan screens a handful of new projects, including Soda Kazuhiro’s THEATRE 1 & 2 (pictured), a meditation on the stage via the world of Japanese playwright/director Oriza Hirata; and Sakai Ko and Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s STORYTELLERS, the concluding part of a trilogy focused on the survivors of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, which is also the subject of more than a dozen films in the festival’s Cinema with Us section.
Shifting back to global filmmaking, fifteen films are part of Yamagata’s International Competition, culled from more than 1100 entries. While a fair number of contenders are familiar from the international film circuit, others are less so, including: Nontawat Numbenchapol’s BOUNDARY, exploring conflicts along the Thailand/Cambodian border; Lo Shin-chieh and Wang Hsiu-ling’s A GIFT FROM THE SKY – THE TRAGEDY OF HSIAOLIN VILLAGE, PART 2, continuing the directors’ chronicle of the impact of a 2009 typhoon on a Taiwanese village; Kim Dong-ryung and Park Kyoung-tae’s TOUR OF DUTY, a portrait of three former sexworkers in a US military camp town in Korea; Ignacio Agüero’s THE OTHER DAY, a lyrical meditation on a Chilean family’s history; Diego Gutiérrez’s PARTS OF A FAMILY, the filmmaker’s study of his elderly parents’ complex relationship; and Sakai Ko and Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s VOICES FROM THE WAVES (pictured), the second part of the trilogy mentioned in the paragraph above.
Other programming strands include a tribute to Chris Marker, a sidebar on the Arab Spring through documentary, a selection of films bringing up ethical quandaries, and presentations of archival, retrospective, and new student films made within Yamagata.