TOKYO: A collaborative film project helmed by three of Asia's top filmmakers is aiming to bridge the cultural divide, and to bring Japanese film heritage to Southeast Asia, and vice versa.
The omnibus, Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections, sees the collaborative efforts of three filmmakers: Award-winning Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines, Khmer Rouge survivor Sotho Kulikar from Cambodia, and Japanese auteur Isao Yukisada.
It is the first-ever co-production between the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) and The Japan Foundation Asia Center.
The Asian omnibus initiative, according to the organisers, was launched as part of an effort to deepen understanding and further cultural exchange within Asia, “by showcasing Asian films in Japan, Japanese films in Asia, and by bringing Asian talent to the world through TIFF”.
The collaboration, which will continue until the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, brings together Asian directors of global renown to create portraits of a character living in the region who is connected in some manner to another Asian country, and requires that they shoot on location in an Asian country.
Speaking to the media at the 29th TIFF in Japan, veteran Japanese actor Masahiko Tsugawa who stars in Yukisada’s Pigeon, said: “The Japanese film industry is not seen as part of the Asian industry, which I think is a shame.
“We need to help people understand our culture, and we need to understand each other through culture, not just through economy and politics. Asia is a huge market, but Japanese filmmakers aren’t aware of that. I think we need to disseminate the message that it’s never too late. It’s a great opportunity for us to collaborate in this way.”
The 76-year-old Tsugawa plays a lonely old Japanese army veteran living in Malaysia in the film. He is cared for by a Malaysian helper, played by Sharifah Amani, who provides the comfort and friendship that is sorely missing from his life.
MORE SUCH PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
Echoing Tsugawa’s point, Yukisada said: “We put a lot of pressure on our crew in Japan. But in Malaysia, there was so much teamwork. It was much more relaxed than in Japan, where it’s really high tension.
“I think this kind of atmosphere was reflected in the film. The relationship between the old man and the young woman as they try to communicate is exactly our relationship between crew members,” he added.
For renowned auteur Mendoza, shooting outside his native Philippines for the first time for Shinuma (Dead Horse) was an eye-opening experience. He recounted how even a flight cancellation in snowy Hokkaido could be incorporated into his film, with cast and crew adapting readily to the change.
Shinuma stars legendary Filipino actor Lou Veloso as an illegal immigrant who has worked odd jobs on a horse farm in Hokkaido for 30 years.
Said Veloso, who was visiting Tokyo for the first time: “It was so cold in Hokkaido. (Mendoza) didn’t tell me the story, he just told me to run in the snow, and I got a swollen foot the next day.
“On a more serious note,” he added, “I think Japan is getting closer to Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. I think this film represents what Japanese feel: ‘Don’t worry, we want peace.’ (I hope) we will all continue learning from other countries.”
Japanese actor Masaya Kato, who stars in Cambodian Kulikar’s contribution Beyond The Bridge, added: “You learn much more by working overseas than by just visiting. Through this project, I realised just how many things I didn’t know (about the Khmer Rouge).
"A project like this gives us a chance to understand new things. We had a mutual purpose to create a wonderful film. I think human interactions are the most important part of a project like this, and I think we should have more such projects.”