JFF – Japanese Film Festival World Tour

The Japan Foundation Tokyo has held several film festivals in recent years, both in cinemas and via streaming. In March this year, JFF returned with seven new Japanese films.

For those living in Germany, JFF was primarily a streaming platform. In other countries, the films were shown on the big screen. That’s not to say that Japanese films are never shown in German cinemas – alongside big releases such as a new Ghibli or Makoto Shinkai film, films based on major anime/manga franchises get special screenings.

Of course, there are also the film festivals. Nippon Connection (Frankfurt/Main) is the biggest, followed by the JFFH (Japanese Film Festival Hamburg). A smaller festival is held in Düsseldorf. The Japan Foundation also regularly screens films at its cultural centre in Cologne.

The JFF 2024

Japan Foundation Tokyo picked up these seven films. All of them were free and shown in Japanese with English subtitles:

  • The Lines That Define Me
  • And Yet, You Are So Sweet
  • Immersion
  • The Water Flows to the Sea
  • BLUE
  • Intolerance
  • In the Wake

Of those seven, I had seen BLUE before. This festival was primarily held in Cologne, a selection of titles were shown in Hamburg and Berlin as well.

Hina matsuri dolls

The Lines That Define Me

Overcoming grieve and growing as a person through traditional Japanese art is a popular theme in Japanese cinema. In The Lines That Define Me, Aoyama Sôsuke discovers the art of Sumi-e. Will he discover his line? Of course he will. This film is quite predictable and there’s a big Sumi-e competition at the end.
Fortunately, The Lines That Define Me is entertaining enough and works as a introduction to Sumi-e, too. So despite the plot, I enjoyed the movie.

And Yet, You Are So Sweet

Based on a manga series by Anan Kujira, the live-action film premiered in Japanese theatres in March 2023. The main character is Maaya Kisaragi, who has a huge crush on a boy. Unfortunately, he dismisses her confession and insults her on social media. Seeing her depressed, Sui Chigira – the most popular boy in school – suggests that she should develop a fake crush on him. By faking love, she should get over her depression.

Obviously they fall in love with each other. The most fun part are Maaya’s attempts to go through her checklist. Both are not very experienced. Maaya has some awkward ideas about having a crush, while Sui seems to care about sports only. 

In the Wake

The third and last film I watched was In the Wake. I still intend to watch every film starring Hiroshi Abe. Unfortunately, he’s quite a busy actor. In the Wake is a crime drama and criticises Japan’s social welfare system. 

Hiroshi Abe is Seiichiro Tomashino, a cop who lost his wife and child in the great earthquake in 2011. Nine years later, two welfare workers are killed in Miyagi Prefecture. Tomashiro uncovers ties that link these cases to another earthquake survivor.

If you are only interested in crime drama, In the Wake may not meet your expectations. The drama is about grief after the earthquake, the unfair welfare system and family tragedy. Nevertheless, some scenes were quite powerful and the actors deliver strong performances. Hiroshi Abe, in particular, portrays the tough detective role with ease. He could probably play this role blindfolded at this point…

Before and after

Signs of spring

There were some things to do around the cultural centre in March. The trees adjacent to the building were in full bloom, indicating the beginning of spring in the Hiroshima-Nagasaki park. In addition to the theatre, the centre also houses a library that offers a free library card and a wide selection of books in Japanese and other languages. Are you preparing for the JLPT? The bookstore stocks a wide range of popular Japanese textbooks.
For those seeking a deeper immersion in Japanese culture in the heart of Cologne, the East Asian Museum, located next to the cultural centre, showcases art from China, Korea, and Japan.

Library of the Japanese Culture Institute

Next JFF

JFF will also continue with online film festivals. Plans are to hold an online festival in June for 27 countries and regions. 

Spring in Cologne

Mia Jaap

Journalist, developer and passionate about Japanese and Korean language. Japan is my #1 country for travelling, penguins my favourite animals.

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