New Docs Japan

Living in Tokyo, it is easy to get the impression that the number of screenings of Japanese documentaries has been rapidly increasing. However, on consulting an online database, I learned that there has been little upward movement from the 50 or so films that have been released annually for the past several years. The reason for this discrepancy is that the online data do not include independent screenings and films released for runs of less than one week. In other words, Japanese documentary is wriggling underground, and the only way to sense how it is shifting is to go out of your way to find the films and experience them first-hand. Apart from the growth in independently organized screenings, the number of non-chain “arthouse cinemas” showing documentaries is also steadily increasing. The film Kantoku Shikkaku, which is being screened in the International Competition at this year’s YIDFF, is being released in multiplex cinemas, indicating that the range of screening and viewing opportunities for Japanese documentaries is truly expanding.

The eight films in this program that confront social contradictions and unreasonable conditions all have titles composed of assertive phrases: True to Myself, I Am Here, Goodbye, Never Let Me Go, Give Back! The filmmakers who chose these words found stories involving people who are generally regarded as being “removed” from Japanese society, and then set about telling these stories. Shooting and editing alone (or in small groups), and then making their own exhibition opportunities, these men and women declared what they felt in their hearts through the words in their titles. I would like to ask you to go out of your way to come out and experience first-hand the instants in which these declarations, through stories, are captured onscreen. Furthermore, I would like you to ride the wave of change washing through the documentary exhibition environment and help ensure that these films are more widely screened and released.

In addition to the aforementioned films, there are two omnibus productions in the program, assembled by individual filmmakers who together bring to the screen scenes of Japan since the March 11 disaster. In doing so, they also quietly praise the magical powers of images. One project is a collection of 8mm films, and the other is a web release of shorts produced according to a set of shared formal restrictions. The respective films are thus brought into being through opposing media. We should relish each of these present-progressive-tense efforts in which change is always underway.

Mabuchi Ai