The Japanese government's worldwide cultural network, The Japan Foundation, has a long history of promoting Japanese arts through its various outposts around the globe.
Supporting the country's rich artistic output – which includes cinema – the Foundation aims to promote cultural and intellectual exchange between Japan and other nations, as well as language education.
Whilst well known for its courses in Japanese language, the Sydney office – founded in 1977 – also boasts a comprehensive library of Japanese film prints. This enables the Foundation to serve Japanophiles with generous helpings of cinema from the land of the rising sun.
Indeed, this community is spoiled with a broad program that includes a fortnightly film night, special screenings and a dedicated film festival.
According to the Foundation's manager for arts and culture, Masafumi Konomi, the screening events attract a strong following. Konomi says the fortnightly screenings, which draw on the Foundation's library of 180-plus 16mm prints, generally attract an audience of about 50-60 locals. These are usually current students of the Japanese language or people with a strong interest in modern Japanese society.
Films shown in recent months include: Jun Ichikawa's Osaka Story (1999), Shiji Somai's Moving (1993), Junji Sakamoto's Awakening (2006); Yasujiro Ozu's Equinox Flower (1958); and Tokihisa Morikawa's The Story of Jiro (1987).
The print library in Sydney also services a range of external film festivals around the country and across the Tasman. The Foundation's fortnightly program is augmented by one-off special events, such as this month's Glimpses of Japan.
Taking place across four weeks, the event will feature half-hour films made in the 1970s and '80s, complemented by Q&As with Japanese studies experts exploring the themes of the films and their relevance to Japan today.
The four films, screening at the Japan Foundation in Sydney, are as follows:
October 6 – Salary Man (1975), which follows a day in the life of a Tokyo salary man, placing this iconic symbol of Japan against contemporary issues such as housing problems and paternalism in the Japanese corporate world.
October 13 – Voices of Young Japan (1979), which focuses on the hopes and dreams of young people, covering Japan's competitive education system and career paths students have lying ahead of them.
October 20 – The Hanawa Family (1980), covering four generations of the Hanawa family who live and work together in a suburb of Tokyo, and in doing so, highlighting some of the transformations that have taken place in Japanese society since World War II.
October 27 – Manga: The Cartoon in Contemporary Japanese Life (1982), examining the importance and popularity of manga in Japan in the early '80s, covering children's and adult manga product.
Whereas prints from the Foundation's archive are shown fortnightly and available for loan, the annual Japanese Film Festival provides a forum for new Japanese cinema, which the Foundation sources directly from Japanese distributors.
Konomi, who directs the festival, explains that unlike events which might look to secure exclusively art house product, this festival tends to showcase Japanese films that have had a successful, wider release domestically.
The festival began 14 years ago as a three-film event, at a time when very few Japanese films were shown in Australia.
“I wanted to bring some very recent films, so I started the festival, touring the major cities,” Konomi says. “Because it was only three films I felt like it wasn't really a festival.”
The Foundation gradually expanded the event, developing the budget beyond its initial government funding, and in 2006, a festival showcasing some 20 films was staged to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Australia and Japan signing their Basic Treaty of Friendship.
“We held the 2006 festival at Greater Union, George St, and 5000 people came, so I thought 'Maybe it works',” Konomi recalls. “The following year I tried 20 films again, and 6,500 people came, so since then we've had 20 films regularly, with an audience of 10,000 across Melbourne and Sydney.”
In a reflection of the extent of local interest in all things Japan, Konomi says 75 percent of the festival's audiences are Australians.
“25 percent would be Japanese people, but they can see films easily through the internet, and don't necessarily want to see the films with English subtitles.”
The 2010 festival's opening and closing night films will be respectively Yôji Yamada's About Her Brother (pictured), a drama about sibling bonds, and Izuru Narushima's A Lone Scalpel, a medical-themed drama based on a real story.
Other films screening are: Toshio Lee's Box!, Mitsutoshi Tanaka's Castle Under Fiery Skies, Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions, Miwa Nishikawa's Dear Doctor, Sumio Omori's Feel the Wind, Mitsuhiro Mihara's Flavour of Happiness, Norihiro Koizumi's Flowers, Nobuhiro Doi's Flowering Dogwood, Ryuichi Inomata's Shodo Girls, Takohiro Miki's Solanin, Hideyuki Hirayama's Sword of Desperation, Daisaku Kimura's The Summit: A Chronicle of Stones, Kichitaro Negishi's Villon's Wife and Isshin Inudo's Zero Focus.
Animated features to screen will be Yasuhiro Yoshiura's Time of Eve, Shinsuke Sato's Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror and Naoyoshi Shiotani's Tokyo Marble Chocolate.
The 14th Japanese Film Festival is taking place in Sydney from November 22-28 and Melbourne from December 2-7.