The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival will highlight on the work of the man considered “the greatest living Japanese director” along with the story of a kamikaze pilot and a small-town mechanic.
The film festival opens Friday with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Our Little Sister,” a 2015 film with several Japanese Academy Prize nominations.
In “Our Little Sister,” three adult sisters find out that the father who abandoned their family years ago has died. At his funeral, they meet their teenage half-sister, Suzu. The women decide to take her in – despite her being the daughter of the woman their father left their family to be with.
Based on Akimi Yoshida’s manga series “Umimachi Diary,” “Our Little Sister” is more episodic than plot-driven, focusing more on the aftermath of conflict (their father’s infidelity, the death of relatives) rather than the drama of the conflict itself.
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According to film festival director Barbara Kado, the festival’s selection committee debated two other films for opening night, when the most significant movies are shown.
Among the offerings is “Harmonium,” a film about a small-town mechanic whose violent past comes back to haunt his family.
In “The Eternal Zero,” a brother and sister find out their grandfather was a kamikaze pilot in World War II, and are met with mixed reviews when they ask his peers about him. The festival closes with the documentary-drama “Persona Non Grata” about a Japanese diplomat who, against Imperial Japan’s orders, signed exit visas in Lithuania that saved 6,000 Jewish lives. The director, Cellin Gluck, will also be attending the festival.
The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival, in its 13th year, aims to screen a wide range of films, said Kado.
“As a smaller film festival, we have to work harder at that,” she said.
The festival includes old classic films, comedies and dramas. To curate a diverse program, the festival tends not to have a theme.
“The only common thread is that they are all Japanese films,” said Kado.
Kado says Kore-eda is considered “the greatest living Japanese director.” The festival has often screened his work, including “Afterlife,” a film where the dead are allowed to choose a single happy memory from their lives to experience for all of eternity.
“Our Little Sister” is Kore-eda’s first adaptation, though he added and cut scenes to fit his vision of what “Umimachi Diary” might look like on screen.
“Kore-eda is really a wonderful master on family relationships,” Kado said. She added that the family unit is very important to most of the filmmaker’s work.
Such masterful and complex depictions of family earned “Our Little Sister” an unprecedented 12 nominations for Japan Academy Prizes in 2016 – including nominations for all four leading actresses. The film won five of those nominations, including best film, best director, and best newcomer for fresh-faced Suzu Hirose, who plays the youngest sister with the same name in the film.
Kado said that Kore-eda originally wanted to be a novelist. “But he has always followed his own calling.”