The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival was designed to bring productions such as “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” to area film devotees.
The last work by legendary anime director Isao Takahata, the film was released in Japan in 2013 and has since gained universal acclaim for its subtle, hand-crafted artistry.
Though briefly shown in North America last fall, it wasn’t distributed in the United States, so the screening of “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” at 1:20 p.m. July 18 at the Crest Theatre offers a rare opportunity to see the film on the big screen.
The festival, which began in 2005 as the one-day Japanese Movies at the Crest now screens seven films over three days and is one of only four festivals in the continental United States exclusively dedicated to Japanese cinema. The festival opens July 17 with the 2013 film “Like Father Like Son” and continues through July 19, concluding with the 2014 production “Under the Blood Red Sun,” with two of the filmmakers in attendance to discuss it before and after the screening.
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The festival offers a broad range of films in its admittedly restricted time frame, trying to present a classic with the mostly contemporary selections.
“It’s a continuum over the years,” festival chairwoman Barbara Kado said. “We only show seven films a year – that’s not a large number – so we try and show different types.” There are six narrative feature films and one documentary, “Hafu, the Mixed Race Experience in Japan.”
“The audiences that come to us also seem to really want to see the classics,” Kado said, noting that while much of the film festival’s audience has been Asian, about one-third were what she called “film aficionados.”
“I Was Born But …” is this year’s classic, a 1932 black-and-white silent film directed by master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu has been an acknowledged influence on Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders.
The film tells the story of two brothers who lose respect for their father when they feel he doesn’t appropriately stand up to his boss at work. Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece “Tokyo Story” was previously screened at the festival, but this year the committee decided to dig deeper into his legacy.
“The ending of “I Was Born But ...” is beautiful,” Kado said. “For the boys there is a coming together and a understanding from their part of their father as a human being after being crushed by what they think is their father’s lack of character and moxie. And the father also shows more of an interest in the boys.”
Kado also believes “Unforgiven” will draw an audience. The Japanese take on the dour Clint Eastwood Western stars Ken Watanabe in the Eastwood role.
“The viewer who will enjoy this film the most will be the one who doesn’t expect it to be a remake of Eastwood’s classic.” Kado said.
Still “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” rates a special place in the festival because of its heritage. Takahata helped formed the Japanese animation industry as co-founder of the legendary Studio Ghibli. Based on the ancient Japanese folktale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” the story is a meditation on mortality. A New York Times review described it as “exquisitely drawn with both watercolor delicacy and a brisk sense of line.”
Kado said pre-sales for “Princess Kaguya” have been “very very high, it’s a spectacular achievement.”
2015 Sacramento Japanese Film Festival schedule
- “Like Father Like Son,” 7:30 p.m. July 17 directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (2013, 121 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “I Was Born But …” 11:30 a.m. July 18 directed by Yasujiro Ozu, (1932, 90 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” 1:20 p.m. July 18 directed by Isao Takahata (2013, 137 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “Hafu, the Mixed Race Experience in Japan,” 4 p.m. July 18 directed by Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi (2013, 90 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “Unforgiven,” 7:15 p.m. July 18, directed by Sang-il Lee (2013, 135 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “Pecoross’ Mother And Her Days,” 1:30 p.m. July 19, directed by Azuma Morisaki (2014, 113 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles)
- “Under the Blood Red Sun,” 4 p.m. July 19, directed by Tim Savage (2014, 99 minutes, English with some Japanese). Producer/filmmaker Dana Satler Hankins and actor/star Chris Tashima will be in the Crest lobby before the screening and on the Crest stage to talk about their film.