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KIFF 2019 Daily Report Day 2: Friday, October 18

2019/10/18 Report

Crowds gathered for KIFF just after noon on Friday October 18 at Toho Cinemas in Nijo to take in the film Katsu Futaro, a powerful examining of modern life based on a graphic novel of the same name. This inventive work by director Keisuke Shibata centers on the titular character Katsu Futaro, wonderfully portrayed by Hayato Ichihara. As a baby Futaro was abandoned at a Zen temple by his mother and he’s grown up with a strict spiritual practice his whole life. This intense discipline has led to a radical freedom that spiritual attunement brings. Because of this Futaro doesn’ follow temple rules and the wise head monk (Akaji Maro) tells him to take some time in the real world. 

In the city he encounters Kenji (Tom Fujita), a small time hustler. The two become a duo with Futaro offering life advice and Kenji collecting money (unbeknownst to Futaro). He helps salaryman Takahira, a woman named Shiori (Ayano Kudo), and Kenji. The film tells their stories in turn but uses a fascinating technique of winding back when the story is done to show the other two stories are going on simultaneously. In addition to the compelling form, the flick has some searing insights into Japanese society and issues as well as the personal lives and choice of the characters. At its heart the work is questioning what values are proper for people and how should we make our life choices.

Director Shibata and actor Ichihara appeared before the thrilled audience and gave their thoughts on the remarkable film. Shibata noted, “the original story comes from a comic but it was set in a different era so we had to update things a bit. The work deals with social issues and we had to make those relevant to today’s society.” Ichihara explained why he was attracted to this role. “I was really happy to play this character. This story makes us think life. It asks the question ‘what should I do with my life’ and ‘why am I here.’… and what does it mean to live. These are great questions to examine.”

In the late afternoon on Friday, Yoshimoto’s Gion Kagetsu Theater in eastern Kyoto found every seat taken as a packed audience gathered for a night of humor designed to help convey the complex Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

The event, now a favorite at Kyoto International Film & Arts Festival, is dubbed the SDGs Grand Prix and sees five comedian groups compete with performances based on the 17 SDGs, with one comedian or group selected as the best comedy show.

The event opened with a song “Be Together” invoking the shared responsibility of society to help achieve the goals. But being a comedy event, the comedians playfully joked that SDGs means “Super Damaged Jeans” - until one pointed out that jeans begins with a j, not a g!

It was in September 2015, that the United Nations General Assembly in New York adopted the SDGs, which include goals for all nations globally to improve the environment, create a better life for all citizens and develop “a world full of smiles.” 

With MC Kendo Kobayashi leading proceedings, the five comedians took to the stage wearing bright colored t-shirts emblazoned each with a “SDG”s logo. Each group had to choose 2 of the 17 goals to include in to their routine.

First up was EXIT, a duo dressed in young street gear based their routine on “Zero Hunger” and “Quality Education” (SDGs 2 and 4), while another dio, Akina appeared second, in sports gear, tackling SDGs 1 and 10, “No Poverty” and “Reducing Inequality”.

Wearing traditional dress, solo performer Kakusho Shofukutei used puppets placed on each leg while led on his back to introduce the concepts of Climate Action (SDG 13) and Life on Land (SDG 15). 

Yuriyan Retriever, who once performed on Simon Cowell’s “America’s Got Talent,” came out next, playing Paper, Scissors Stone while tackling Quality Education (SDG 4) and Clean Water & Sanitation (SDG 6). Final duo Kamaitachi selected SDG 14 and 15, “Life Below Water” and “Life on Land” 

Each routine is improvised as much as possible, with the winner chosen according to which conveyed the message of their selected SDG the best to the audience, with the winner announced as EXIT.

The ensemble groups then asked the audience what they have been doing to try to help with SDGs, and suggestions including reducing using straws coming from the crowd.

After the Grand Prix, a second section titled “SDGs New Comedy” launched, in which new members of Yoshimoto tell stories that introduce specific examples of SDGs, to make them easy to be understood by the audience as a familiar issue. 

Performers in Part 2 included Yasushi Kawabata, Sutchi, and Ai Sakai, wrapping up a successful event Yoshimoto’s Gion Kagetsu Theater.

On Friday evening director Heather Lenz’s documentary Kusama Infinity, about world-famous artist Yayoi Kusama, had its Japan premiere at Toho Cinemas Nijo. A coup for KIFF, the hotly anticipated film met expectations, offering a detailed, insightful and moving look at the artist. It took Lenz 14 years to complete the pic, both due to budget issues and Kusama’s expanding fame. But the result is more than satisfying, filling a crucial gap in history of contemporary art.

The doc starts off by offering some general views of Kusama’s extremely influential work, and then dives into a biographical examination that might help explain her work. Kusama came from wealthy family in Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture, Japan. But all was not well at home. Her parents didn’t get along and her mother, who was very much against Yayoi’s artistic pursuits, used the young girl to spy on her father. Thus Yayoi saw her dad in compromising positions with other woman while she was still very young, traumatizing no doubt.

Though her family did everything they could to dissuade her, Yayoi was intent on becoming an artist and in 1958, long before it was trendy, moved to New York to pursue an art career. There, despite being unknown, she created groundbreaking and challenging work that heavily influenced legendary creators like Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. She was part of the emerging avant-garde scene and some of her concepts, like mirrored rooms, are staples of art installations today. But in the 1960s in New York she went uncelebrated, with racism and sexism likely playing a large part. Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and had to start over, slowly building up her career and continuing to create inspired, revolutionary work.

Finally in the late 80s and 90s she was “rediscovered” and major retrospectives awarded her the appreciation she deserves, both at home, in the US, and around the world. She has since become the leading female artist in the world, with over 5 million people visiting her museum exhibitions since the late 90s.

Director Lenz made an appearance after the screening and was clearly thrilled to debut her film in Japan. She noted, “I first saw Yayoi Kusama’s work in the early 90s when I was studying art history in college. At that time there was only one catalog about her. And when I read about her I felt that her contributions to the American art world hadn’t been properly understood or recognized and that’s what motivated me to make the movie.”

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