Thursday, February 16, 2012

Iwai Shunji Film Festival - Volume 9 (Jan 2012)

Iwai Shunji Film Festival ( is a website by the great Japanese filmmaker Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou, Love Letter) that features video projects, interviews, MP3s, storyboards, and serial novels relating to Iwai's films and Japanese cinema in general. Access is 500¥ per monthly "volume" (or 300¥ /month subscription). All content is available in Japanese, Korean, and English, and US and other international credit cards work.

Love Letter star Yamamoto Taro
Volume 9 (Jan 2012), contains:

Friends After 3.11 is a documentary by Iwai comprised of interviews discussing the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown disaster in Japan. It screened last week at the Berlin Film Festival, and Iwai includes two interviews from it here. This volume starts with an 11-minute interview with Kobayashi Takeshi, a music producer for such acts as Mr. Children and director of the Iwai-scripted BANDAGE (2010). He and Iwai discuss big picture issues of Japanese identity, politics, and zeitgeist. Next is a 13-minute interview with actor Yamamoto Taro, co-star of Iwai's Love Letter. After 3.11, Yamamoto apparently became a voice of the anti-nuclear movement, and there is footage of him speaking at a community meeting and touring an area hit by the tsunami. I personally found these less interesting than last Volume's interviews with a nuclear scientist and a nuclear activist, but whatever. 2.5 stars.

Fukushima Day post-screening panel talk

My little film festival: Fukushima Day discussion, a 13-minute panel discussion with Iwai and director Sono Shion (Love Exposure), novelist Sakurai Ami (she has one novel available in English, published by Vertical), and actor Iseya Yusuke (star of Casshern). The discussion follows a screening of the Sakurai Ami's short film Fukushima Day, which apparently began as a documentary about life after the 3.11 nuclear accident but morphed into a fictional piece. 

The four guests have been active in post-disaster art and advocacy, and each one briefly discusses their projects. Iseya heads Rebirth Project, which promotes/creates ecologically-friendly products, and is involved in a separate organization that delivers food and aid to victims of the disaster. Shino, when adapting the play "Himizu" to a 2011 film of the same name, changed the play's setting to post-disaster Fukushima, and plans two film sequels to create a so-called Fukushima Trilogy. 

Iwai discusses a film he had started writing even before Lily, called Banken wa le wo Mamoru (translation?) which he describes as people trying to survive in an irradiated, presumably post-apocalyptic world, "and I'd forgotten it up till now". He was in the process of revising his old manuscript when 3.11 happened, and realized that he had previously been unable to understand the gravity of such a situation. Iwai has adapted the screenplay as a novel (more below).

Overall, mostly informational about the creators' various projects. Iseya ends things with a positive thought, "So are we going to be the generation that sat back and did nothing? Or the ones who stood up?" 2 stars.

My little film festival: talk with producer Suzuki Toshio, a 14-minute interview with Studio Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio, who worked on Ghibli's most famous works like Princess Mononoke and also produced Hideaki Anno's film Shiki-jitsu (starring Shunji Iwai). Suzuki talks about including articles on nuclear issues in an anime magazine he contributed to back in the day, a controversial move at the time. Suzuki and Iwai discuss a number of Japanese films that relate to nuclear disaster themes, including Godzilla and Kurosawa's I Live in Fear (1955). This interview was filmed as part of an introduction to the Japan Film Channel airing these films. 2 stars.

Shunji Iwai

Messy Room - About 30 minutes of Iwai reflecting on 2011, especially the 3.11 tragedy, and his plans for 2012, which include:
  • a part 2 to Friends After 3.11. He discusses his choices of nuclear-related films for the Japan Film Channel (discussed above), and mentions 
  • his new novel, Banken wa le wo Mamoru, was published in January 2012, and he eventually wants to film it. 
  • work on Kitagawa Eriko's second film after Halfway (2009, co-written by Iwai, which was originally planned as a short film)
  • several scripts
  • Vampire won't be released until after summer 2012 (although it screened at various film festivals last year).
Longtime friend of Shunji Iwai, Nakajima Hiroto
- Messy room: conversation with Nakajima Hiroto. In some ways the highlight of the Volume, a 15-minute talk with one of Iwai's old friends and high school classmates, at a restaurant in Ishinomaki, one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami. The friends recall introducing each other to filmmakers back in high school (when Iwai was a "dark, ominous guy") and shooting a student film together in college. Nakajima observes that Iwai's screenplays are often vastly different from the finished films, and asks him which one he intends as the finished product. Nakajima also praises Lily Chou-Chou, noting that its use of music, images, and even lettering elevate it "beyond moviemaking".

Oddly, considered he is the one filming and presenting this interview, Iwai seems reluctant to really open up, politely agreeing with Nakajima's statements or responding with vague answers. Perhaps their inability to really connect on a topic is that Nakajima asks questions relating to the "art" of Iwai's films, but Iwai seems more interested to talking about questions of filmmaking craft. This is labeled "Part 1" of the discussion, so perhaps we'll see more in future volumes of IWAIFF. 2.5 stars.

Novie noveau - Iwai presents the latest chapters from his serial novels in Flash video, a presentation format he called "novies"(his own portmanteau of "novels" and "movies"). Unfortunately, I would infinitely prefer to read text the way I read all the other text in my life, rather than sentence by sentence in Flash movie form. The interface is simply too slow to properly read, and the translations are for some reason not up to the solid standard of the rest of the site. The new chapters are from Iwai's online novels, Vampire and All About Lily Chou-Chou: The Complete Edition (final chapter). Zero stars.

Music - two tracks: "Vampurity" by Iwai (solo piano + apparently synthesized cello), from the Vampire soundtrack, and Moonlight by Debussy (solo piano, apparently performed by Iwai, has been included in IWAIFF before). Just okay. Would be nice if Iwai added more tunes or licensed music from some other sources.

Overall, not the best issue. The interviews for Friends After 3.11 and with Iwai's childhood friend are promising, but rarely go deep enough or generate much insight. Too much of the rest of this Volume's content is merely promotional or information on others projects. Worth your 500¥? Maybe not this time.

new novel by Iwai - 番犬は庭を守る

A new novel by Shunji Iwai was published 1-27-2012. It's 230 pages and is a work of fiction imagining people inhabiting a radioactive future Japan. The title is 番犬は庭を守る, which Google Translate tells me is something like "The watchdog will watch the garden".

Iwai mentioned this in the latest Iwai Film Festival. Apparently this is based on a screenplay he began writing over a decade ago and was in the process of revising when the 3.11 earthquake/tsunami disaster happened. Apparently the disaster and its aftermath made him reconsider key elements of the story, and this novel is presumably an adaptation of that.

Available at Amazon Japan

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Iwai Shunji Film Festival - Volume 8 (Dec 2011)

Volume 8 contains, as usual, a number of short videos:

- My little film festival: Tanaka Chie,  an 8-minute interview with a Japanese actress who's become a star in Taiwan, due to her appearance in Cape No. 7. Pretty light stuff. Two stars.

- Friends After 3.11 is a documentary by Iwai comprised of interviews regarding the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown disasters in Japan. This volume features a 15-minute interview with a nuclear scientist and a nuclear activist. I'm unsure if shorter cuts of these appears in the completed documentary or not. Interesting and informative, and a rare chance to see Iwai documentary material with English subtitles. Three stars.

- Messy Room - Iwai talk All About Lily Chou-Chou (AALLC) in 16-minute interview on the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary. Things of note:

  • There are still fans who add to the Lily Holic forum (the home of the original AALLC internet novel), continuing the story, in a sense.
  • Iwai discusses adding to the Lily story using a new narrator, named Pascal, who writes in a kind of fake Kansai dialect. This appears in AALLC: The Complete Edition (see below).
  • Iwai discusses a news story from the late 90s -- a young man who murdered his parents and planned to murder a pop idol he obsessed over -- as an influence on the creation of AALLC.
  • Iwai also mentions a book on Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon, as another catalyst in creating the Lily story. The book is Let Me Take You Down by Jack Jones, and Iwai discusses its "cinematic" first chapter, which describes the week in Chapman's life before the killing, at length.
  • The first chapter of Let Me Take You Down also influenced Iwai's short film April Story, although Iwai twisted the influence by imagining good things in such a week, rather than bad. "I took things I thought would make a nice film and put my own personal spin to them... for me there's a link between them."
Overall some very interesting info on what started Iwai thinking about AALLC. Four stars.

- Novie noveau - new chapters in Iwai's online novels, Vampire and All About Lily Chou-Chou: The Complete Edition. The latter is not a sequel, at least in this chapter. It adds to the Lily story from within the chronology of the movie from different characters' points of view. I find the interface so EXTREMELY annoying I can hardly get through them. One sentence at a time pops up. A few seconds later, another sentence. I get what Iwai is going for-- to make reading them a kind of dreamy experience and which mimics, to a degree, reading posts on Internet forums, but it just feels like a gimmick. Please, format the stories in normal text! One star.

- Storyboard artist - a new chunk of storyboards from Iwai's portion of New York, I Love You, but actually reads more like a comic book. The best way to read is to click full screen, exit via hitting ESCAPE, and then use the forward and backward arrows on your keyboard to flip through them. Interestingly, the short film again references John Lennon's death when the main character (played in the film by Orlando Bloom) walks past the Lennon memorial in Central Park. Two stars.

- Music - three tracks: Ladybird by Iwai (solo piano), Moonlight by Debussy (solo piano, apparently performed by Iwai), and Saraband by Iwai. Okay, but not particularly memorable or essential. Two stars.

Overall, the Friends After 3.11 interviews and especially Iwai's interview re: AALLC are probably worth your 500¥. If the online novels were in an easier to read format, I would enjoy them much more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New York, I Love You (2009)

New York, I Love You is a romance film comprised of short films by 11 directors. Shunji Iwai contributed the third film in the movie, a 7-minute segment he originally titled Camille & Camille.

The film stars Orlando Bloom as David Cooler (nice name), a sound engineer working on a film for a demanding Japanese filmmaker, Abara, who is never shown. Bloom talks on the phone with his agent, a woman named Camille (Christina Ricci), walks around NYC, stops in Central Park at Strawberry Fields (the John Lennon memorial), and tries to comply with the Abara's unusual requests.

The plot is pretty ridiculous. I don't mind whimsy, but whimsy still has to make sense, and Camille & Camille unfortunately doesn't. The two actors heroically act out what's often thinly thought-through dialogue. The film as a whole garnered mediocre reviews (Metacritic), a perennial criticism being that the stories weren't particularly related to New York, and Iwai's contribution is an unfortunate example of that. Aside from a reference to the Dakota apartments, there's almost nothing of New York in it. Ultimately it's neither terribly bad nor good-- just quick and forgettable.

Original storyboard, from


  • Orlando is filmed walking down the street in the Upper West Side, down Columbus Ave. between W. 105th and W. 104th. 
  • A poster for the hit manga and anime Death Note, a dark and cerebral thriller, is in Orlando's apartment. 
  • A copy of This Means Nothing, an art book of NYC street art, is on his coffee table.
  • Iwai has stated that he drew on the death of John Lennon and a book about the murderer Mark David Chapman in both All About Lily Chou-Chou and April Story. (AWAIFF Vol. 8)
  • The anime film Orlando appears to be working on looks like Tales From Earthsea (2006) by Studio Ghibli.
  • "Lennon... is my God." Iwai stated in an interview that when he heard the news of Lennon's death in 1980, he was not very affected by it, and was in fact surprised that a man he considered a historical figure ("like Beethoven") had even still been alive. (AWAIFF Vol. 8)
  • Iwai published the storyboards to Camille & Camille online at Iwai Film Festival.
  • Orlando mis-pronounces Wikipedia, "WHY-ki-pedia". WTF?
  • There are two big differences between Awai's original storyboards (posted at and the finished film. First, the film Cooler is editing has a character named Camille, and Cooler imagines the film Camille while talking to the real Camille over the phone. Second, the storyboard version end with the real Camille sending him a fax.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Iwai to produce Fukushima Day (2012?)

Iwai posted on December 1 (at Awaiff) that he has become a Producer of the upcoming film Fukushima Day by filmmaker Ami Sakurai (Twitter).

Iwai states that it is about "the everyday struggles of the people living in Fukushim", and that although originally intended as a documentary, the film turned into a piece of fiction as production went on.

More info as we get it.

Iwai Shunji Film Festival

Iwai Shunji Film Festival (IWAIFF) is an odd duck. Once a month or so, an online magazine of sorts is updated with a new "volume" featuring short videos of interviews with actors and professionals who have worked with Iwai, plus storyboards, MP3s and other odds and ends.

IWAIFF Official Page
IWAIFF on Facebook
IWAIFF on Twitter

I'll be creating blog posts for each volume (Volume 8 just came out) and adding hopefully much more on Iwai in the coming weeks and months.