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Zipangu Fest returns to London this weekend, showcasing an intriguing selection of Japanese films, shorts, animations and documentaries. Now in its third year, the event runs from 14th to 16th September at The Cinema Museum and is one of the few Japanese film events to try and steer away from the usual kind of mainstream or cult material usually seen in the West, and this year focuses on the fascinating debate regarding traditional celluloid in the digital world. The films on offer are a truly eclectic mix, including the ultra-rare Japan and North Korea co-production “Somi: the Taekwon-do Woman”, a screening of the 1928 silent “Crossways” with live score performance, director Q&A sessions and other delights.
The festival held its press preview evening at the weekend, with Festival Director and Chief Curator Jasper Sharp giving a quick chat about the films and themes, followed by a screening of “Planet Z”, a 9 minute short animation from director Momoko Seto. Shot on 35mm, “Planet Z” is an amazing little piece, which basically follows the evolution of plant life on a deserted rock of a planet floating through space. Beginning with a sudden jet of water, the film shows the development and growth of vegetation, which in turn is slowly but surely destroyed by spores and mould. Visually stunning, the film is an atmospheric and somewhat sinister short, Momolo Seto’s use of organic matter making for some stunning moments of growth and decay – an excellent taster for the kind of unconventional talent and techniques presented by the fest.
Next up was Keita Kurosaka’s “Midori-Ko”, a 55 minute animation very different to the usual anime associated with Japan. Consisting of hand drawn artwork which took the director an amazing ten years to create, the film is science fiction of sorts, set in a ramshackle world beset by food shortages where scientists create a meat-vegetable food hybrid. Their experiment comes to life and escapes, ending up in the home of a young university researcher called Midori, who takes in the evolving creature and tries to prevent her neighbours from eating it.
Keita Kurosaka has apparently spent his career working with a variety of different types of animation, and “Midori-Ko” is certainly a unique and highly artistic piece, which at times seems to have more in common with Western classical art than anything anime related. The film is a dark piece of fantasy, its world and characters frequently grotesque, though at the same time there’s a certain fairy-tale like charm to the proceedings and a twisted beauty to many of its scenes. The artwork itself is impressively crafted, and the sheer amount of work which went into the film is obvious throughout, and though it’s a chiefly visual work, Keita Kurosaka does a fine job as storyteller as well.
Finally, a brief clip was shown from the feature length live action film “Saudade” from director Katsuya Tomita and screenwriter Toranosuke Aizawa, both of whom will be in attendance at the festival. Although it was difficult to get too much from the scenes shown, the long (167 minute) 35mm-shot film is an indie outing focusing on a small town in Kofu and dealing with Japanese-Brazilian immigrants and showing a far more multi-ethnic mix than usually identified with Japan in the West.
Zipangu Fest 2012 kicks off Friday 14th September in London – a full listing of the program with links for tickets is up over at the festival website.