Masahiro Kobayashi on the Advent of Digital Technology in Asian Cinema

Masahiro Kobayashi Zhang Lu Edwin - H - 2013

The renowned Japanese filmmaker experiments with the digital medium for South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival.

JEONJU, South Jeolla Province — Jeonju Digital Project, the crowning jewel of the Jeonju International Film Festival, brings together three Asian filmmakers to contribute shorts for a thematic omnibus film. The 14th edition of the South Korean arthouse film event has challenged such veteran filmmakers as Japan’s Masahiro Kobayashi to venture into digital cinema.

Under the theme Strangers, Kobayashi brings Strangers When We Meet, about a husband and wife that do not speak to each other; Korean-Chinese auteur Zhang Lu introduces migrant workers in Korea in Over There; and emerging Indonesian filmmaker Edwin allows viewers to accompany two visitors on an obscure island through Someone’s Wife in the Boat of Someone’s Husband.

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For 59-year-old Kobayashi, Jeonju Digital Project has allowed for experimentation with, and moreover, contemplation about, the digital medium. “To be frank I still don’t really understand digital filmmaking,” the director known for films such as the Palme d’Or-nominated Bashing told reporters Saturday.

“I’m not sure if there is a definition about digital cinema out there, but we are at this point where we are moving toward digitization, thus breaking the flow of a tradition that has continued for about a century. In Japan, it’s impossible to screen movies unless it’s digital. I’ve used film all my life and [the Jeonju project] was a process of trying to figure out how I will continue my work in the future.”

Edwin expressed a similar view.

“[Indonesian cinema] is in a transition from 35 millimeter analog to digital projection, as well as the filmmaking [process] itself. It’s a transition era in Indonesia and it’s quite an interesting era to explore a new way to tell a story in cinema. What I learn from this process, however, is that there is not really a change when it comes to the way you make a film. What I’m questioning now is the digital projection [and its mechanism].”

Meanwhile, for Zhang, who is known for works about ethnic Koreans in China, undertook a different type of challenge — documentary filmmaking.

“This film [Over There] is very different I think compared to my previous works. I shot a documentary for the first time. When I was told that the theme was ‘stranger,’ I thought, oh I must look like a stranger,” he said, chuckling. “When I asked if I could shoot a documentary, [Jeonju Film Festival] said yes.”

However, some things have not changed — namely the lyricism of the urban landscape that he paints, especially as he interviews individuals about dreams they’ve had at night.

“I’ve had this idea of landscapes in my previous work. Before in Korea ‘foreigner’ usually referred to tourists, but today, when you go to certain parts of the country there are more foreigners than Koreans actually. These are migrant workers.”

The 14th Jeonju International Film Festival continues through May 3 and will close with Wadjda by Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour.