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Coming Future

May 24, 2011

Shinka (Japan, 2010)

Japanese independent cinema has never been doing better! Japanese independent cinema has never been doing worse! Certainly, it has never been like this before.

For years now the most interesting Japanese cinema has come from either indie side or small genre film factories. Rarely discovered by masses, it has lead to a misbelief that Japanese cinema has lost all its bite. The real problem, however, is not in the lack of talent but in its inability to live up to its full potential. It’s a global phenomenon that multiplexes are killing off small arthouse theaters, leaving indie films homeless. The problem may be even worse in Japan where business is highly networked, and quality alone isn’t enough to buy your film public screening time. Getting a movie into distribution can prove a real challenge. And that’s only after one has miraculously come up with a budget to shoot a film in the first place. Director Kyuya Nakagawa’s Coming Future was born from the lack of budget.

Nakagawa is a young man who knows the industry. He has worked as an assistant director for Sion Sono, and as a sound technician for Yuya Ishii, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and Koji Shiraishi. Nakagawa’s aim for 2009 was to direct a movie of his own. When financing could not be found, he decided to get off to the street of Tokyo to make a zero-budget documentary on the state of Japanese independent cinema, jishu eiga. And capture a piece of living Tokyo on digital video while he’s at it.

Coming Future is not your typical documentary. It lacks traditional narrative, and was shot essentially without screenplay. Rather than exploring dying cinemas or explaining sad facts about filmmaking realities Nakagawa goes for a walk with his filmmaker pals – Tetsuaki Matsue (Live Tape, 2009), Koji Shiraishi (Shirome, 2010), Satoko Yokohama (German + Ame, 2006), Nobuhiro Yamashita (Ramblers, 2003), etc. It’s Christmas Eve, with Japan’s most interesting young filmmakers discussing their profession on the streets of neon filled Shibuya. The outcome is interesting.

With only limited planning applied, Nakagawa’s aim was to allow his quests to add their own personal flavor to their sections. Rebel director Kenji Onishi does this best. Carrying 8 mm camera with him, he frequently stops to film footage he could use in his upcoming movies. Coherence may not be this man’s specialty, but does such thing matter? Art doesn’t doesn’t need to have rules, and Onishi hates patterns such as watching movies from the beginning. Starting from the middle in more interesting, he states.

Onishi is a filmmaking dinosaur in the sense that he’s still shooting on film. Most indie filmmakers in Japanese these days shoot on digital, Nakagawa included. It’s far more economic, and good enough to produce movie theater level material. No doubt this has saved Japanese indie cinema from practical extinction. Yet filmmakers struggle. Even past indie champ Nobuhiro Yamashita, who had his mainstream success with films like Linda Linda Linda (2005), got stuck with TV shows and idol videos. There was just no one to finance a single movie project for him after Tennen kokekko (2007). That being said, 16 months after Coming Future Yamashita finally has his new film in theaters, a mainstream production none the less (My Back Page, 2011).

Nakagawa’s film is not only about filmmakers, though. He manages to surprise the viewer on a few occasions (those wishing to avoid minor spoilers and save the surprise may wish to skip this paragraph). He runs into pole dancer Cay Izumi (Sushi Typhoon regular) running guerilla show on the streets. The best moment comes when he drops indie films entirely and goes interview American G.I’s and Japanese schoolgirls about random things. It has nothing to do with the main topic, but it’s refreshing filmmaking. Like Onishi said, the strength of jishu eiga is that it’s not bound by established cinematic rules, but, at its best, has the possibility to do something unexpected. These parts further tie Coming Future into its time and environment, making it more of a zeitgeist than it would be without them.

Coming Future is not a film for grand audiences, but for those interested in Japanese jishu eiga it’s is a cool 90 minutes with some of the most interesting filmmakers in Japan. These kinds of movies have very small audience, but there’s always someone who will go see them. For filmmakers, it’s a rough business, though. No one ever got laid by making jishu eiga, Nakagawa complained at the Nippon Connection screening! Good luck to Mr. Nakagawa for finding a girlfriend!

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