Preview – The Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019, March 8-17

The Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 (OAFF) is back for its 14th edition and it promises a wealth of cinematic experiences from across Asia with a healthy selection of local indies programmed alongside international award-winners, auteur works, modern classics and genre cinema.

The festival runs at various locations in the city from March 8 through to March 17 and organisers have carefully created a programme consisting of 51 films from 17 regions including 10 world and 9 international premiere films. Over half the titles will be screened in Japan for the first time and there will be filmmakers traveling from across the world to join film fans and take part in Q&A sessions to give more information about their works.

Everything has been organised across multiple programmes including the Competition section as well as sections dedicated to Hong Kong and Taiwan and there is also the prestigious Osaka Asia Star Award which is given to a significant figure from the Japanese or Asian film industry and presented at an award ceremony which is followed by an in-depth talk event.

OAFF 2019 opens with the world premiere of RANDEN: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram, a sweet and romantic title by director Takuji Suzuki which mixes a little local magic and a lot of longing for love as a writer on folklore played by Arata Iura crosses paths with a variety of characters traveling on the titular trams across the western part of the city. The director and his stars will be in attendance for the screening and the festival’s opening ceremony.

The Competition section features films from Taiwan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan and the titles feature the newest voices on the scene as well as veteran auteurs.

In an age when festivals are being forced to examine how much space they give to female directors, OAFF continues to play a leading role in giving considerable festival coverage to women, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the titles in Competition were directed by women. These films have earned their place due to the vision displayed and some have already accrued accolades for their directors. This cadre of creatives includes new directors such as Han Ka-ram who brings a critical look at competitiveness and gender roles in Korean society with Our Body and Yi Ok-seop whose offbeat relationship drama Maggie which looks at the comedic and potentially dangerous misunderstandings that happen in a relationship between a nurse and her lazy boyfriend in the city of Seoul which is beset by the random appearances of sinkholes. Their works sit alongside titles like Asandhimitta, a sultry and deceiving Sri Lankan film about crime and obsession from veteran director Asoka Handagama where a filmmaker explores a murder case, and there is also Tanabata’s Wife, a quiet and beautiful adaptation of a famous Filipino short story about the romance between a Japanese migrant farmer in the Philippines and a local woman.

The festival continues to be a progressive voice through bold choices in programming as there are a number films featuring LGBT characters as seen in titles in the special programmes dedicated to Hong Kong and Taiwan and the large selection of films from the Philippines. Samantha Lee, a rising star on the international festival circuit brings a fun romance between two girls in a rural Filippino town in Billie and Emma while Hong Kong director Maisy Goosy Suen dives into the issue of transgenderism in A Woman is a Woman, a film that portrays two people, one at the start of their journey and the other mid-way through theirs, and the reactions from the local HK community. Still Human is a funny and sentimental film by Oliver Siu Kuen Chan which features an award-winning performance from veteran actor Anthony Wong as a disabled man who makes a connection with his Filipino domestic worker that has reportedly had audiences in tears and laughter at screenings in Hong Kong.

One of the big highlights will be seeing the Osaka Asia Star Award and Talk which has been bestowed on Taiwanese actor Roy Chiu who gives a comedic and layered performance in the colourful dramedy Dear Ex where he breaks his clean-cut image to play a husband stealing theatre director who turns out to be a goodhearted person. Roy Chiu will be in town to collect the award and talk about his career.

Local film production is well-represented in Special Screenings as well as the Indie Forum and Housen Cultural Foundation sections where new talents have been giving a platform to show new directions in Japanese cinema alongside more established names. Hitoshi Yazaki brings a remastered edition of his well-regarded debut film Afternoon Breezes where a one-sided lesbian love affair unfolds between two roommates. Nunchaku and Soul brings Akiyoshi Koba’s brand of small town gentle comedy to the screen when a nunchaku nerd and a soul brother enter a dance contest while Bilal Kawazoe looks at the mixed-race experience in Japan with his film Whole.

OAFF 2019 will then close with the awards ceremony where it is revealed who the judges and film fans have selected to win accolades including OAFF’s Grand Prix award, the Audience Award and the Japan Cuts Award which is given by the organizers of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film to a film in the Indie Forum section. That film will then be screened in New York at Japan Cuts.

The final film of the festival will be the Japanese premiere of the smash hit Vietnamese comedy Daddy Issues which stars the king of Vietnamese comedy Thái Hoà. Directed by Japanese filmmaker, Ken Ochiai, it’s a funny body-swap story wherein a lackadaisical father and a high-achieving daughter experience life in each other’s shoes and learn to grow together.

Nearly all of the films are presented in their original languages and will have English and Japanese subtitles, and there will be guests attending many of the screenings. The festival’s continued efforts at making films accessible to a wide audience makes it one of the best opportunities to see the cinematic output of Asia in the world.

The full programme, with descriptions of all movies in both Japanese and English plus details of guests, is available at the festival website.