MANILA -- Anyone who has been bitten by the travel bug would aspire to see the heritage villages of Shirakawa-Go and Gokayama of ancient Japan. More than major tourist attractions, these houses of farmers that have been preserved since the 11th century are silent witnesses to the wonderful era of the samurai.
Though set in the middle of the 16th century, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai” tried to recreate those heritage houses, though not as grand and big.
Considered one of the classics in world cinema, “Seven Samurai,” about destitute farmers who hire seven warriors to protect them from bandits, has inspired generations of filmmakers. Hollywood adapted it into the Western cowboy flick “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960, which was remade in 2016.
“Seven Samurai” is among the films included in the ongoing Japanese festival called Eiga Sai, which also features the manga-adapted three-film series “Chihayafuru,” among others.
“Chihayafuru 1” and “Chihayafuru 2” were shown in the past Eiga Sai and there were requests for a rerun following the release of “Chihayafuru 3.” Finally the three can be viewed in succession like a film marathon. The three films opened the festival on Wednesday in Greenbelt 1, and will be shown again in various venues until August. Director Nori Koizumi will be present in some venues for a talk back.
“Film series like 'Chihayafuru,' as well as the original comic series, have raised sympathy across generations and gender. We chose to feature this film (and open the festival with this film) because of our audiences and followers very much enjoyed ‘Chihayafuru Part 1 and 2,’ which were screened in the previous year, and they have been asking us to bring the final episode, Part 3. We feel so lucky that we have managed to bring the film, which will be its Philippine premiere,” Hiroaki Uesugi, director of Japan Foundation Manila, told ABS-CBN News.
“Also, this film helped us introduce karuta, a unique Japanese traditional card game,” he added, noting that actual karuta game sessions will be held in the venues.
This year’s Eiga Sai is the 21st installment and will run until August 26, in honor of the Philippine-Japan Friendship Month. There are 15 full-feature films of diverse genres selected for more than 100 screenings in Metro Manila as well as in Cebu, Davao, Bacolod and Naga.
The schedules in respective venues are: Greenbelt 1 Cinema 2, Makati City (July 4-8); Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City (July 4-6); CCP Complex, Pasay City (August 4, 5 during Cinemalaya and August 17), Cinematheque Centre Manila, Ermita, Manila (August 5); UP Film Institute–Cine Adarna, UP Diliman, Quezon City (August 15-18); SM City Davao Cinema, Davao City (July 12-15); SM City Naga Cinema, Naga City (July 27-29); SM City Bacolod Cinema, Bacolod City (August 9-12); and Ayala Center Cebu Cinema, Cebu City (August 23-26).
“The uniqueness of this year’s ‘Eiga Sai is ‘diversity and collaboration,’” Uesugi said.
“Diversity because we are offering diverse genres of Japanese from animation, documentary, family drama, mystery to story of children and the younger generation. Besides contemporary films, we include one of the greatest classic films, Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai,” he added.
(Before or after watching “Seven Samurai,” relieve the era by checking out the ongoing exhibition “The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan’s Martial Arts” at National Museum of Fine Arts from July to September this year.)
Uesugi also made special mention of the film “When the Curtain Rises,” an adaptation of the novel of the same title by noted playwright-novelist Oriza Hirata. It is about a high school drama club in a provincial town. Hirata will give a one-time special talk at CCP Dream Theater on August 17 after the special screening.
Hirata will also introduce his play, “Manila Notes,” and the collaboration with Tanghalang Pilipino. Incidentally, “Manila Notes” has been adapted in Filipino by playwright Rody Vera and is part of TP’s season. It will run from November 30 and the whole December.
“Tokyo Notes” premiered in 1994 in Tokyo and has since been translated into 15 different languages and staged in various cities around the world.
Diversity is also palpable with the independent docu-film “Of Love & Law,” which chronicles the lives of a couple who operates Japan’s first openly gay firm. It won the Best Film Award at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival’s Independent Japanese Cinema category. The director, Hikaru Toda, will be present at the Philippine premiere on August 4 at the CCP during the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
Out of curiosity, we asked him why is there no “Japanovela” presence in the soap-opera obsessed Philippines.
“In Japan also, there are a lot of TV dramas being produced, some of which have really high quality. Though I am not in the position to discuss ‘why there is no Japanovela?’, I believe and hope that Japanese TV dramas become more popular in the Philippines in the near future.
“It may be that since Japan is rich in good and entertaining manga/comic stories well-received beyond generations, this is one of the key sources of Japanese movies and TV dramas, both of animation and live-action,” Uesugi said.
In the meantime, there’s Eiga Sai, which is proof of the Filipino audience’s love for stories about the Japanese everyday life, from centuries ago to the present.
“Last year, Eiga Sai gathered a total of 26,000 audience in the Philippines, which is the highest number among Japanese Film Festivals held by the Japan Foundation in Southeast Asian countries,” Uesugi said.
Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis, except screenings at Greenbelt 1 Cinema 2 (P100 per screening).