Japan is heading in a decidedly different direction than Hong Kong or Taiwan, according to the five filmmakers recruited to speculate on the country’s next decade in the anthology film Ten Years Japan, bowing at BIFF. Following the same format as the successful, low-budget indie produced in reaction to the perceived increasing stranglehold Beijing has on Hong Kong, the project expanded to three other key Asian locations. Produced by art house favorite Hirokazu Kore-eda, emerging filmmakers Chie Hayakawa, Yusuke Kinoshita, Megumi Tsuno, Akiyo Fujimura and Kei Ishikawa (arguably the highest-profile contributor) take a look into the crystal ball.
Regardless of the success or failure of every entry in the Ten Years series so far, the films are a fascinating glimpse into national psyches when held up against one another (Taiwan and Thailand also contribute to the franchise — so far). In the way the Hong Kong original said a great deal about the city’s frustrations with suppressed identity and vanishing autonomy, Ten Years Japan speaks volumes about that country’s under-the-radar anxieties regarding aging, conformity and those most universal of modern bugbears, Big Data and nuclear power. The film lacks the urgency and fired up political inspiration of the original, which emerged from the Umbrella Movement, but it makes up for it in intensely Kore-eda-esque whimsy and gentle emotion. The cocktail of young filmmakers and timely subject matter will secure a boatload of festival slots, but the quiet, intimate nature of the shorts make streaming services a viable option as well.
Ten Years Japan starts strong with Hayakawa’s “Plan75,” in which a salaryman makes his living selling a shady choose-your-own death program to seniors and trades on Japan’s well-documented demographic imbalance. In “Mischievous Alliance” by Kinoshita, children are implanted with personalized education and surveillance devices that keep them in line and help the state build the perfect workforce. Similarly, Tsuno’s thought-provoking “Data” sees a teenaged girl unlock her dead mother’s digital inheritance and connect with her by recreating her cloud memories. “The Air We Can’t See” from Fujimura revolves around a little girl living in an underground bunker safe from a toxic environment looking for her friend, who may have fled topside, and Ishikawa’s “For Our Beautiful Country” rounds out the series with the return of the draft to Japan as an undefined conflict rages beyond its borders.
Whether or not you fall under the spell of Ten Years Japan’s understated, observational vibe will depend on what you expect from a Ten Years product. Anyone looking for more of the fire and rage of the first film should look elsewhere. In fairness, Ten Years was blessed with a casual, organic production process that can’t possibly be duplicated in a franchise property. Which isn’t to say the fundamental concept for the films is unsound, just that Japanese artists are fretting over entirely different issues and reacting to them in entirely different ways — as they should.
Some of the material in the Japanese entry isn’t unique to Japan; most industrialized nations are aging. But Japan is aging at a rate that leaves everyone else in the dust, and the imbalance between net contributors and benefactors is weighing heavily on the country. Hayakawa reworks Logan’s Run for far more sinister effect, and manages to throw in a comment on the systemic but nearly invisible war on the poor, the disabled and the elderly. The clinical way a Plan75 executive lectures staff on exempting old rich people from the program — they consume and therefore contribute to the economy — is chilling. Digital data, privacy (or lack of it) and how those with the power to do so wield it are universal concerns (Facebook’s disastrous PR year is free advertising for the film), and Tsuno and Kinoshita do a nice job of coming at the same topic from personal and institutional perspectives: Are we the sum of our memories, and can we program a better person? More specific to Japan, it’s no surprise the specter of both the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe and the pressure on the constitution’s Article 9 (which outlaws war) loom large in stories about environmental disaster and a seemingly militarizing Japan.
The cast is uniformly strong, but Tetsushi Tanaka and Hana Sugisaki as father and daughter bonding over their absent wife/mother in “Data” have a refreshing dynamic that’s both sweet and respectful. Tech specs are consistently strong across all five shorts, with Judai Kato’s murky, post-apocalyptic industrial silo ambience butting up against its fantastical animation (by Naoki Kaneshin) in “The Air” among the standouts.
Production companies: Bang-Boo Films, trixta, Bun-Buku, cogitoworks
Cast: Satoru Kawaguchi, Kinuo Yamada, Motomi Makiguchi; Jun Kunimura, Seiya Okawa, Pako Tsujimura, Ryu Nakano; Hana Sugisaki, Oshiro Maeda, Tetsushi Tanaka, Masaki Miura; Chizuru Ikewaki, Ririya Mita, Shina Tabata; Taiga, Hana Kino
Directors: Chie Hayakawa, Yusuke Kinoshita, Megumi Tsuno, Akiyo Fujimura, Kei Ishikawa
Screenwriters: Chie Hayakawa, Yusuke Kinoshita, Megumi Tsuno, Akiyo Fujimura, Kei Ishikawa
Producers: Miyuki Takamatsu, Miyuki Fukuma, Eiko Mizuno Gray, Jason Gray
Executive producer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Directors of photography: Ming Kai Leung, Kengo Yagawa, Hiroki Takano, Judai Kato, Yasushi Miyata
Production designers: Kayoko Matsuda, Reiko Sasaki, Hyeonsun Seo, Kayoko Matsuda
Editors: Chie Hayakawa, Yusuke Kinoshita, Megumi Tsuno, Shinichi Suzuki, Shiegeru Yoshida
Music: Hiroyuki Onogawa, Masamichi Shinego, Takashi Ueno, Sato Taiki
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
World sales: Golden Scene