Nippon Connection 2011

July 20, 2011

While I’m still in the process covering festival highlights, I thought I might post some brief feedback on the fest itself. For better introduction on this annually held (Frankfurt, Germany) awesome film fest, please see Midnight Eye’s article.

Amazing Film Selection (++)

Many film festivals commit the cardinal sin of only playing acclaimed movies by established directors. Nippon Connection provides an amazing variety of movies from mainstream hits to arthouse, splatter, and student films, without forgetting short movies. While the latest mainstream movies draw larger audience, it’s the unknown indie films that are Nippon Connection’s most important asset. At Nippon Connection one can witness cutting edge cinema and new talents being born – not after Cannes told you about them (as if interesting films were invited to Cannes), but before anyone else knew about them.

Many of the indie treasures, no matter how good, never receive home video distribution in their native country, let alone in foreign countries. Often Nippon Connection is one of the few, if not the only, place outside Japan to see them.

Culture and Food (++)

Nippon Connection is more than a film festival – it’s a culture venue including lectures, activities, movies, food, and more. When you’re not watching movies you can be listening to a film lecture or singing karaoke. The local streetfighters will head to the gambling den, zen-fans go to teahouse. When you get hungry you can have sushi, ramen, or other delicious foods cooked by the Japanese chefs at the festival. And beer – a German movie festival wouldn’t be anything without it. Asahi Superdry always within reach. Those looking for something stronger can try sake.

Atmosphere (++)

More than a few people have concluded that Nippon Connection is the nicest film festival they’ve ever visited. Despite the festival’s high reputation, respect, and star attendance, everyone is friendly. You can chat with Noboru Iguchi on the corridors, run into Koji Shiraishi in the bathroom, and make friends with audience members from different countries. It’s not visiting a movie festival, it’s attending a movie festival – and a lot more.

Poor Film Scheduling (- -)

This is the only negative. The scheduling is, simply put, a failure. There are too few screenings for most films (many of them play only once). Most of the program is also scheduled for evenings, sometimes leaving noon and afternoon half-empty. It’s a terrible choice to make in the evening when four top films are screening at the same time. This year’s theme seemed to be “Sion Sono Retro (with his early works like Bicycle Sighs) vs. Everything Else. Can’t have both. Nippon Connection needs to add more second screenings for afternoons.

The second problem concerning the scheduling is that screens are not synchronized. The main screening room especially is completely out of synch with other screening rooms. This means that Nippon Visions screenings might be starting at 16:00 and 18:00, while Nippon Cinema screenings would be starting at 17:00 and 19:00. As a result one Nippon Cinema screening is overlapping with two Nippon Visions screening. This makes it difficult to surf between screens and make it to the next screening.

In comparison, Helsinki International Film Festival manages this very well. The screens are synchronized to a large extent, they often play films of approximately same length at the same time, and the don’t fall much behind schedule. If there is an unexpected delay, they will even come to ask audience if there is anyone in a hurry to the next screening elsewhere, and try to delay the other screening if possible. With the amount of delays at Nippon Connection, this wouldn’t even be possible.

Fun Stories (++)

• Little screw-ups are a seminal part of all good film festivals. 2011 Nippon Connection audiences got to witness how a film reel inserted backwards (or upside down?) looks like (The Room). People who saw Sketches of Kaitan City in the sold out screening at Orfeo’s Erben were left breathless – not because of the film, but because the theater staff forgot to turn on the air conditioning for the first 40 minutes. And in Nippon Visions it seemed to be a tradition that for the first 60 seconds the projector man plays lottery with aspect ratios – until he finds one that pleases him.

• Nippon Connection draws plenty of audience – I witnessed this from the floor when Noboru Iguchi took the last remaining seat – even though I had a ticket, too (Hoga Holic triple). I wonder if he did.

• <Sunday, what a Sunday. Deciding to protest the Kou Shibasaki cooking film Rinco’s Restaurant (oh, come on, it can’t be good) I took the afternoon off and went to meet a Japanese friend downtown. Music, cheerleaders, beer, bratwurst… and, sunburn, dammit. Getting back to the fest I must admit Teto went beyond me thanks the beer – sunburn – headache combo. Thankfully the day was saved by the last fest film: Karate-Robo Zaborgar. More beer with my good friend Alex, meeting Iguchi after the screening (my Japanese literally downgraded by 2 years as I was trying to explain some nonsense of who I am and how I saw Iguchi in Sapporo last year).

Conclusion (++)
Awesome film festival, just fix the scheduling issues, please! Will certainly attend again if I get a chance.

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