Since its inception in 1997, the Eiga Sai film festival, annually staged by Japan Foundation and the Embassy of Japan, has been more than a showcase of films that highlight Japan’s culture and national identity—it’s also a unique cradle for filmmakers who have helped propel Japan’s cinematic evolution.
So it is only fitting that two promising tyro directors—Ryota Nakano and Hirobumi Watanabe—took center stage as their films headlined Eiga Sai’s 20th anniversary, which held its grand launch on July 6.
Nakano, whose film “Her Love Boils Bathwater” kicks off Eiga Sai’s gala night, was this year’s special guest director. Watanabe’s “Poolsideman” will premiere during the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in August, which also marks the second year of its alliance with Eiga Sai.
Hiroaki Uesugi, director of Japan Foundation, told the Inquirer: “By bringing two directors from Japan to the Philippines, we would also like to show that a wide genre of high-quality films, not only animated films, are being produced in Japan, and there are quite a few emerging directors in Japanese cinema.”
Though relative newcomers in the industry, both filmmakers could already boast of several accolades under their belt.
Nakano, for one, won best director for his 2012 film, “Capturing Dad,” during the 9th Skip City International D-Cinema Festival, and was nominated for best director for “Her Love Boils Bathwater” during the 40th Japan Academy Awards this year.
Meanwhile, Watanabe won the Japanese Cinema Splash’s best picture award at the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival for “Poolsideman,” for which his brother Yuji was producer and composer. It was also the only Japanese film to win during the festival that year.
Nakano held a Director’s Talk session after his film’s premiere on July 8. The Watanabe brothers, meanwhile, will have a talkback session on Aug. 5 during Cinemalaya at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Through this year’s Eiga Sai, Uesugi said, these up-and-coming filmmakers will be given a rare opportunity to talk with Filipino audiences to stimulate the creation of their future films and contribute more to the flourishing body of Japanese cinema.
“Additionally, [these] sessions contribute to dialogue and conversation between filmmakers of the Philippines and Japan, providing opportunities for film and cultural exchange,” he added.
And it is in that spirit of fostering mutual understanding that Eiga Sai, for 20 years, has brought Filipinos together to celebrate Japanese culture. Nakano and Watanabe’s films are just two of the festival’s stellar 20-strong lineup, which this year is a mélange of genres and generations.
Among the anticipated films are the Oscar-winning music drama “Departures” (2008); romantic film “Memories of You” (1998); jidaigeki “The Magnificent Nine” (2016); and animated films “In This Corner of the World” (2016) and “The Anthem of the Heart” (2015).
“[These] films offer a glimpse into the interesting lives of Japanese people, which we hope will fuel Filipinos’ curiosity and interest and start conversations about Japanese culture,” Uesugi said.
The 20th Eiga Sai will have screenings until July 16 at Shangri-La Plaza Cineplex, Edsa, Mandaluyong.
Ongoing until Aug. 29, the film fest will tour other Metro Manila venues and Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo.