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Bored of mainstream cinema? Then Japanese films are the answer

A new festival has all the good stuff you need to see.

Lady Maiko 1

IF YOUR ONLY reference points for Japanese film are scary horror The Ring, or anime, then you’ve got a whole world of entertainment ahead of you.

Think comedy, zany musicals, and action films that defy stereotype – and right now these flicks are travelling around the country thanks to the Japanese Film Festival (JFF).

“It’s a real shot in the arm to moviegoers who are just a little jaded by how predictable things are [in the cinema],” said David O’Mahony of Access Cinema, the group behind the festival.

UzumasaLimelight_still3 Uzumasa Limelight

In its seventh year, it is bringing movies from the land of the rising sun to cinemas across the country, including Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick.

Sometimes, Japanese masterpieces of arthouse cinema are shown in Ireland, but a “vanishingly small amount” of its current films are distributed here, said O’Mahony.

In the 1990s, there was a brief period of Japanese mainstream cinema reaching Ireland, but since then it has been quiet – which doesn’t match up with the country’s great output.

momo_01 Letter to Momo

What some don’t realise, said O’Mahony, is how rib-ticklingly funny Japanese movies can be. “There’s a real sense of humour in Japanese cinema,” he said.

There is a very droll, deadpan sense to the humour that really appeals to the Irish sensibility. There’s a real connection between what Japanese directors and writers find funny and the audience respond to here.

“There’s an enormous appetite for Japanese animé that isn’t being served at all [in Ireland],” said David.

Maybe once in a blue moon one gets released in a cinema, the really big high-profile ones, like Spirited Away or a Studio Ghibli film. There are so many titles out there – it is a massive industry in Japan.

There’s also, he said, a community in Ireland with a love for Japanese film – the animation fans in particular often get dressed up in cosplay as their favourite anime characters during the festival. “We definitely encourage that,” said David.

What you don’t expect

Lady Maiko 3 (1)

But the film isn’t just for existing fans – and it shies away from stereotypes.

We wanted the festival to take the measure of current Japanese cinema, and not just go the easy route about it, not just have tons of Samurai movies. It’s like someone doing an Irish festival and just having leprechauns.

The JFF features 18 films, including Uzumasa Limelight, a poignant film about an elderly samurai actor; Wood Job, a comedy about a high school graduate who winds up working in a forestry programme; Tokyo Tribe, a futuristic musical about wayward gangs; and Lady Maiko, about a country bumpkin who wants to be a geisha.

O’Mahony said the ‘sense of discovery’ at film festivals is what brings people joy.

“People are getting an opportunity to get access to something that they won’t have the opportunity to see again. There’s a really exciting adrenalin rush.”

Check out the remaining dates and all the films at the official website. The JFF runs until 23 April at various locations. 

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