Japanese cinema: how the Kinotayo Festival lit up Paris


Scene from the film “Love Life” by Koji Fukada, presented at the opening of the Kinotayo Festival on December 6, 2022 in Paris. (Credit: DR)

For fans of the 7th art in the Ile-de-France region, December rhymed with Japanese cinema and Paris with the Kinotayo Festival. At the end of the year, no less than sixteen films were presented to the public of the Maison de Culture du Japon à Paris (MCJP) between December 6 and 17 before the festival travels the rest of the France between January and next March. On the program for this sixteenth edition, dramas, comedy, romance, thrillers, and above all documentaries since the festival offered a focus on the work of documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda. Asialyst was present at the MCJP during the opening ceremony which presented Kôji Fukada’s latest film: Love Life.

On this Tuesday, December 6, the great hall of the Maison de Culture du Japon in Paris is buzzing with impatience for the opening ceremony of the most important festival dedicated to Japanese cinema in France. The audience of journalists, officials but above all enthusiasts, came to discover the latest film by Kôji Fukada, lovelife, selected at the Venice Film Festival and released last September in Japan. On the platform, the president of the festival, the minister of the Japanese embassy, ​​or even the members of the selection committee make speeches for the occasion. This year, more than 180 films were screened by the committee, which only selected seven in competition. The cream of the crop, made up mainly of filmmakers who have never before been presented in France. It is true that the Kinotayo festival has become a master in the art of introducing new faces to French film buffs such as, a few years ago, Kôji Fukada or Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

Precisely, it is the turn of the documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda to go on stage for an intervention which comes to cut with the stuffy side of the previous speeches. Unknown to the general public, Soda is not unknown to festival fans since several of its documentaries have already been presented in previous editions. He did not come alone, since his wife, who is also his producer, is on the trip. The smile from ear to ear, the couple of filmmakers, very complicit, cheer up the audience by cutting each other off. They have reason to be happy since alongside the seven films in competition, the festival has decided to dedicate a retrospective to them by presenting seven of their documentaries and that the last, Professor Yamamoto is retiring, awarded the Montgolfière d’Or at the Festival des 3 Continents, has finally obtained a French distributor and will be released in theaters on January 4, 2023.

Documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda has been dissecting Japan for more than fifteen years.  (Credit: DR)

Documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda has been dissecting Japan for more than fifteen years. (Credit: DR)

Finally, the lights go out for the opening film, lovelife, the last feature film by Kôji Fukada known in France for Hospitality, Harmonium, or The nurse. Before the film begins, the forty-two-year-old filmmaker addresses the audience in a pre-recorded message. He says he is very happy that his latest film is opening the festival which, fifteen years ago, offered him the very first prize of his career for his medium-length film, The pomegranate (2006) and who largely participated in making it known in France and in Europe.

From its first minutes, love-life plunges us into the daily life of a happy Japanese family. In a building bar, Taeko, a young woman full of character, lives with her husband, Jiro, and her six-year-old son Keita, a very young Othello champion. The only downside for the young woman, her in-laws never really accepted the marriage. Year after year, everyone makes an effort to form a blended family. Moreover, here they are reunited to celebrate the recent victory of little Keita. Alas, the happiness couldn’t last and soon the young boy’s biological father resurfaces, old loves rise from their ashes and the balance of the family falters when tragedy strikes.

Japanese poster of "love-life", Koji Fukada's latest film.  (credit: DR)

The Japanese poster of “Love Life”, latest film by Kôji Fukada. (credit: DR)

With lovelife, Kôji Fukada once again explores the depths of the Japanese soul by questioning the unspoken and the difficulties of communication to better dissect the vicissitudes of the human being and its contradictions. A bit like Hospitality, released in France in 2021, the forty-two-year-old filmmaker mixes a sometimes light, even comic tone, with the greatest seriousness in a film which, like its characters, constantly changes its mask. Blended family, mourning, lost lovers found, Japanese social system, human hypocrisy, immigration, great precariousness, so many themes that punctuate an ever richer film over the minutes that make its characters more believable and human than ever. Certainly one of the director’s best films that can be seen in cinemas from next April.

Until then, and to discover other Japanese films, the Kinotayo festival has kept its doors open in Paris until December 16. It will be screened in many French cities (Lyon, Chambéry, Strasbourg, Cannes or Saint-Malo) between January and March 2023.

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About the Author

Gwenaël Germain is a social psychologist specializing in intercultural issues. Since 2007, he has been constantly traveling in Southeast Asia, before settling for several months in Seoul and carrying out a field survey there. Particularly interested in the feminist question, he is currently writing a book of interviews devoted to Korean women.

Japanese cinema: how the Kinotayo Festival lit up Paris