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IDFA - Sho(r)t in Japan

Compilation of shorts about Japan. With: Uzu and Gatekeeper.

Uzu
Gaspard Kuentz (JP, 2015) 27'

A beautifully framed impression of an astonishing, violent religious ritual that takes place each year in Matsuyama, Japan.

In the Japanese city of Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku, an astonishing religious ritual is performed every fall. Eight different teams, all consisting of only men, carry extremely heavy wooden Shinto shrines, which they then crash against one another with great force. Men stand on top of the shrines, trying as hard as they can not to fall off. The team whose shrine falls down first, loses. The roughness of the ritual is said to symbolize the wildness of the gods.

Uzu provides a carefully framed impression of this ritual. We see the teams practicing, the painstaking preparations, the rising tension and the final confrontation before a rapt audience. The ritual is so violent that there are injuries among all the teams. The subjective camera positioning – often on top of or even in the shrines – and the striking use of light and dark make this film an intense, almost physical viewing experience.

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Gatekeeper
Yung Chang (CA/US, 2016) 39'

Former police detective Yukio Shige dispatches patrols to walk along the rocky coast of Tojinbo, to stop potential jumpers from carrying out a desperate act.

The cliffs of Tojinbo are beautiful and perilous. This place has a harrowing reputation that forms part of the attraction for photo-snapping day trippers: it is one the most popular sites for suicide in Japan, the country whose annual figure of 25,000 suicides puts it near the top of the global list. Former police detective Yukio Shige recalls how when he set up a suicide prevention service in 2004, people asked, “Are you stupid? How do you expect to save someone if they’re already doomed?”

Working alongside a group of volunteers, he now carries out daily patrols along the jagged coastline, hoping to talk potential jumpers out of killing themselves. If they decide to come back to the support base, they will find a listening ear and a comforting meal of oroshi-mochi. The camera remains at a respectful distance as young men unburden themselves about financial woes and family pressures. Yukio Shige calls one particularly harsh mother to urge her to be more understanding of her son – one of the hundreds of people who owe their lives to these volunteers.

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(idfa)