Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hiroshima Mon Amour

***photos from top to bottom: the closing ceremony where the festival logo, Lappy, gets to share the stage, the local Hiroshima dish called Okonomiyaki which is sort of like a crepe piled with noodles, scallions, bacon, and an egg, and topped off with a sweet Japanese sauce. (Thanks for the tip, Masako!), and finally a rooftop ASIFA party at the festival picturing Yasmeen Ismail, me, Yoshiya Ayugai, Bin-Han To, and Eric.)

My wife and I just got back from our trip to attend the 2008 Hiroshima International animation festival, where my film, Good Morning, was in competition. The festival was fantastic! The staff was very friendly and the screenings and events were very well organized. The sound and projection of the films was superb throughout. I’m finding it difficult to organize my thoughts on the whole experience because there are so many things I could write about.

First off, the festival coincides with the anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. We attended the Peace Museum (which is just a few blocks away from the festival) on our first day in Japan and it documents both the years of war that led up to the A-bombs dropped on Japan as well as the rebirth of the city soon after. As you walk through the museum you begin to experience the event as one big time clock with all the pieces falling into place to lead up to the tragic event. It was very emotional experience to walk through the museum surrounded by Japanese people experiencing it too. By the end we were mentally and physically exhausted and tried to fit in a nap before the next festival screening. I found myself staring at the ceiling in our hotel room, unable to sleep because of the understanding that I was lying in a space that would have been only 800 or so meters from the Hypo center of the explosion on 8:15 AM, August 6, 1945.

On a lighter note, I found the festival screenings were a great deal longer than at other festivals. At the Hiroshima festival, the nightly competitions were so long that there was a ten-minute intermission. A retrospective on animator Paul Driesen was over three hours long and a retrospective on Astro Boy creator Tezuka broke the four-hour barrier. I enjoy Driesen’s work, but I wonder if a tighter selection of films would serve his screening better. He makes concept-heavy films and after a while, one might yearn for some characters in a different kind of interaction. But, I realize that my bias is an unfair criticism for Driesen’s work because my preference has nothing to do with kind of stories he’s moved to tell. The character-based film, John and Karen directed by Matthew Walker (which won an award at the festival), pulls a viewer inside in a way that a concept film cannot. At its worst, a concept heavy film acts as a distancing device because there are no characters to draw the viewer in. My definition of a character is any character that goes beyond a stereotype, archetype, or a piece of moving furniture. There are examples of films that combine characters with concept and the best example I can think of is John R. Dilworth’s The Mousochist, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

The festival offered many opportunities for schmoozing with a series of official parties, and the party often spilled out from there to a local bar called Otis!, or to the 8th floor lobby of our hotel. I was impressed how many of the British and Finnish filmmakers were self employed at their own studios and I was jealous to hear how their respective governments help fund some of their films.

Also in attendance was ASIFA-East’s own Ray Kosarin (who had also served as a selection committee member some months earlier). Former ASIFA International board member David Ehrlich served on the festival jury and attended the festival with his wife Marcella. Recent RISD graduate Andy Cahill was in competition with his film “Spontaneous Generation.” I had met Andy a few months earlier when I spoke to the graduating at class at RISD. I am always impressed when students or recent students trek to festivals and dive into their careers. Too many students graduate and stare at the wall and wait for something to happen instead. At festivals you can make numerous important relationships and pick up oodles of inspiration––two things that could help anyone’s career (student or otherwise).

My film didn’t win a prize at the fest, but our week in Hiroshima was unforgettable. We followed it up with a four nights in Tokyo, where friends of a friend from New York showed us around and took us to dinner and karaoke. We felt so welcomed! On our last night in Japan, eight of our new international pals (who attended the Hiroshima festival) regrouped with us for dinner and more karaoke in Tokyo. By then, our little group was like a family. No doubt another festival will bring some of us together again soon. Maybe Ottawa?

In conclusion, a few words about Tokyo. It’s huge. It’s modern. They don’t take credit cards. There’s no litter ANYWHERE. Toilets are heated and spray water at you (in a good way). Signs are in English and Japanese. The subway is far easier to navigate than people say. There is a plethora of 7-11s and McDonalds. Customers are treated WAY better than they are treated in NYC. The summer heat and humidity gives Florida a good run for its money. Instead of a pigeon infestation, you run into the occasional haw-hawing magpie. And, the city is teaming with vending machines, bicycles, and… Japanese people. The last one came as a real shock. Next time, I’ll read the guidebook more clearly.


George said...

Having lived in Japan for a short while, I was also quite surprised by the fact that credit cards were not accepted. I was also surprised that very few really spoke English (because you attended an international festival, you may not have experienced this).

One thing that I regret most about my time in Japan was that I failed to visit Hiroshima, so I'm jealous of your experience. It sounds like you had an amazing time!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful time! Glad you enjoyed yourself and congrats on the opportunity to attend such a great festival! Meeting new people and seeing great films is definitely worth the trip. I certainly hope to visit one day -- it sounds amazing!

Danielle said...

Welcome back! The trip sounded wonderful (I'm envious). Hope you'll post more!

Tim Rauch said...

sounds like fun dave, thanks for talking about it, I've been curious about that festival!

Elliot Cowan said...

The only festival I've ever managed to get to was Annecy.
The only film I saw was my own.
Like everyone else, I spent the rest of my time in the pub...

David B. Levy said...

Hi Elliot,

I skip many screenings myself. I have a three screening a day maximum at any festival, and I often watch less than that. It's just too much. But, I make it a point to see every competition screening. Additionally, some festivals have other must-see screenings like Annecy's student films screenings and Ottawa's films for children. Annecy is such a lovely destination that the town itself competes against the films for the viewer's attention. But, while I'm there I tend to confine my drinking to midnight to 3 AM! Ah, the festival life.

Elliot Cowan said...

Midnight to 3?
It's not always easy to get a drink at Annecy after midnight.
When I was there we wandered aimlessly around the old town and tried unsuccessfully to crash a party.

I've got something playing at this strange Pictoplasma thing in November. I'm certainly going to attend that.

Robert Schaad said...

Hey Dave. Welcome back! Glad you had a good time. Did you get to sample some of the okonomiyaki (japanese pancake/omelet)?

Mella said...

Great festival!