Screening July 12–15 at Revue Cinema.
An agoraphobic indie rocker who’s an idol to a subculture of shut-ins, a secretary who flourishes in Tokyo’s bondage scene, and an amnesiac cop who can’t keep his hands out of his own pants—these are just a few of the memorable characters viewers can meet at the Shinsedai Cinema Festival… should they be so inclined. Even if the fourth annual showcase of recent Japanese films also includes some more conventional types, the most unusual offerings prove that the country’s filmmakers retain their forte for freakitude.
Conceived by two critics with great expertise in the Japanese scene—Jasper Sharp and Toronto’s Chris MaGee—the Shinsedai festival is a valuable survey of cinematic activities happening well beyond the mainstream. Its opening-night feature is an excellent example. Ringing in Their Ears weaves a series of fictional storylines through an essentially true portrait of Shinsei Kamattechan, a pop-punk band fronted by a combative and charismatic “hikikomori.” The term is used to describe the nation’s legion of young people who have withdrawn from society. If they interact with others at all, it’s through video chat and YouTube. Not coincidentally, these are also the means by which Shinsei Kamattechan built up its audience.
Set during the days leading up to a big gig—one for which the band’s reclusive leader Noko may or may not show up—the movie peers into the lives of fans who feel just as alienated as their hero. The resulting docu-fiction hybrid proves to be unusually acute as a demonstration of music’s potency as cultural connective tissue and personal refuge. (It plays July 12 at 7 p.m.)
The Shinsedai program also finds room for Toronto’s first ever theatrical screening of “pink films,” the softcore-porn movies that have long been a significant, if seldom exported, part of the Japanese film business. The double bill of hour-long featurettes (screening July 14 at 9:30 p.m.) includes New Tokyo Decadence: The Slave, the story of a meek secretary who becomes rather more brazen as a new member of the local BDSM community. That’s not to imply that all the selections at Shinsedai are so racy—further highlights include a rare screening of the 1938 horror tale The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen and a program devoted to experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino.
Nevertheless, local devotees of cult cinema may find themselves more drawn to Zero Man vs. The Half Virgin, an aggressively bizarre sex comedy by Sakichi Soto that screens July 13 at 9 p.m. As the screenwriter of two of Takashi Miike’s most notorious movies (Ichi the Killer and Gozu) and the director of Tokyo Zombies, Sakichi has a formidable reputation for weirdness, and the opening moments of his latest do not disappoint in that respect. In a small-town police station, a young officer realizes that not only has he lost his memory, but he’s also developed the ability to see strange numbers on people’s foreheads, a talent that only occurs when he has an erection. His efforts to learn what the numbers mean yield a series of misadventures, each of them creepier than the last. Some viewers may opt out once they get to the sexual molestation jokes. Others will have a higher threshold for the movie’s quintessentially Japanese brand of lurid surrealism.