TOKYO (AP) - Cannes-winning Brillante Mendoza is among the three directors tapped by the Tokyo International Film Festival to create “Reflections,” a trilogy that depicts the intertwining of stories among Asian nations.
Be it a Filipino worker in Japan or a Japanese bureaucrat in love with a Cambodian woman, the main characters are old and lonely, caught in an Asian nation other than their own, in films that reflect the real-life erasing of barriers in this region.
Premiering Wednesday, “Reflections” marks the first production effort by a festival still struggling to gain stature. And so the work is a heartwarming experiment, despite its relatively modest budget of 10 million yen ($100,000) for each of the three sequences.
Mendoza’s poetic piece “Dead Horse” centers on an elderly Filipino, who is deported after having worked for decades as a laborer in Japan, betting on horses as well as taking care of them.
His state is actually common: Filipinos are the most numerous foreigners in Japan, after Koreans and Chinese. Mendoza did research, talking to Filipinos working in Japan. And shooting in the snow meant a fun challenge for Mendoza.
The horses form a metaphor for the hero’s downtrodden plight, as well as his integrity. The close-ups of actor Lou Veloso’s forlorn face, speckled with the snowflakes of northern Japan, which he would never see in his tropical home, are tragically majestic.
“After 30 years, he doesn’t have a family any more. You lose the connection not only with his family but with everyone around him. It’s a sad situation, but, in fact, it is really happening,” Mendoza said in a recent interview.
At a time when Japan is widely criticized for not being repentant enough about World War II atrocities, a piece of Japan that’s surprisingly lovable is presented by Cambodian director Sotho Kulikar in her “Beyond the Bridge.”
The man, played by Masaya Kato, returns after two decades to Cambodia, where he had a relationship with a local woman. He stands deep in thought on the bridge, built by the Japanese, destroyed during Cambodia’s civil war and then rebuilt, a moment symbolic of an ideal love that can overcome cultural differences, separation or even death.
The theme of unshaken love was based on Kulikar’s parents. Her father died when she was 2, killed in the war. Kulikar wanted to send a message to Cambodian people not to forget or bury the painful past, but to embrace it, she said.
“That is a big mistake for us because we cannot emotionally move on, if we have not accepted it,” said Kulikar, whose next film, a documentary, is about the culture of rice, which she believes also connects Cambodians with Japanese.
“I think the world has so many problems already I don’t think we should look into the bad parts only. We should look into the beautiful part of each country, each nation. Because we need to live together. Otherwise, there will be war again,” she added. “Why not see the beautiful side, and try to live together?”
Crossing borders was also a welcome theme for Japanese director Isao Yukisada, who worked with Malaysian actors and crew to shoot “Pigeon.” It explores Japan’s guilt about the colonization of Asia that led to World War II, juxtaposed with an elderly Japanese man living his retirement years in Malaysia.
Yukisada noted that funding from outside Japan, such as China, and filming with non-Japanese staff and actors, are increasingly becoming part of his life, an experience that’s feeding into his directing.
“Crossing boundaries is a great way to rethink your own work. I’ve been making films for 16 years, and so my style and filmmaking environment are getting more established. But if you think that means things are on a roll, that’s not the case. If anything, the production side makes demands that take you farther away from the original work you had in mind,” he said.
Kenji Ishizaka, professor at Japan Institute of the Moving Image, who oversaw the trilogy, insists independent Asian filmmaking has strengths and appeal, and the festival plans to produce another in 2018, with new directors.
“These films don’t destroy everything in their path like Hollywood blockbusters,” said Ishizaka, who had a bit role as a police officer in Mendoza’s section.
“These movies are about family, community, friends, what you might call human-to-human contact, what ties people together, and they address the effort of various ethnic groups and cultures co-existing.”
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama