Japanese. Film Festival. Singapore. 2011.

city of curious finds

Days ago, I whined about not being in Manila where the film festivals are on. After that I saw a newspaper ad announcing the opening of the Japanese Film Festival (JFF) here. Of course, I told myself, Singapore without its arts festivals is not Singapore.

Gallery Theatre of the grand National Museum of Singapore is the screening venue so the experience last night was majestic.

Like in Shangri La Philippines, people need to line up at least an hour before the screening for free tickets. Arriving two hours early, I took a walk on the ground level where a couple was having their pre-nuptial photos taken (this is the second time I see pre-nups while I’m on a leisure walk).

An exhibit on Singapore’s everyday life was up. I forgot the exact title of it, but the first items I saw were Darth Vader’s helmet and lightsaber. For a second, I was curious how those things are connected to Singapore, then realized, Lucas Films has a studio based here. I moved on to see toys, noodles, milk and Milo! They were sort of honoring those brands that have become part of their everyday life, la vie quotidienne they say in French.

Some amazing facts are on display on the wall too. I remember:

every 2 minutes, a plane lands or take off at Singapore airports

there are 80 IT companies (regional headquarters) and 130,000 IT professionals based here.

(I forget the exact figure, at least six digits) international students are a many.

After an hour, I visited the Museum Shop, which could be a museum itself with all things vintage! If I had money, I’d buy those cute vintage displays, jewelries, paintings, oil lamp, and that Mercedez Benz toy car about a meter long. The gramophone particularly fascinated me so I asked the shopkeepers if it still works (since it looks so vintage-y). They laughed and said it does, though a little scary to listen to, then one of them said, I don’t mind showing it to you, so she took a ladder and went up to the old thing and played it. My god, I was transported to another dimension, with the sound and the building and the vintage stuff around me, and two ladies smiling at me. We had some chat about their shop then I went downstairs for the film ticket.

black and white

The basement is nothing like a basement. Ceilings are so high, two to three floors could’ve fit in. Marble-like tiles adorn the floor and the walls, and the lighting is warm, like those in hotels. The queue (they like calling lines queue/que/Q) is a mix of races and age. In the Philippines, when I was lining up for tickets, I see mostly college students or young professionals in their hip or casual or artsy fartsy attire. Here, there were caucasians, locals, college students, and many of them look adults coming straight from corporate work.

I didn’t know what film was to be screened last night, so it was good that I didn’t have any expectation. So when the 1953 film Where The Chimneys Are Seen (108 min 35mm) started rolling, my first reaction was, uh-oh black and white eek! But I loved it. It was like looking at a vintage life of a Japanese couple after the war. They lived in a poor village, something I do not always associate with Japan, and every action and everyday-life item glue my eyes on the screen, like the bicycle, the cooking stove, the kimonos, the wooden sandals (they run on it!), the sliding wooden doors, the tables, the mats, the blankets, the milk bottle, the abacus, the microphone, the certificates of registry, the costumes, everything. I wanted to take them home, just as how I felt in the museum shop.


The story is strange because the couple finds a baby in their room one day. And the women of the story! The women! They are as strange as novelist Haruki Murakami’s women. (Or perhaps many women are strange?)

But I like the scene when Ogata was asking his wife Hiroko why she never mentioned anything about her ex-husband. Hiroko had this blank smiling face, which was weird at first. Ogata then kept on asking her about it, and went on to hypothesize that maybe she killed him (and we laughed). Then Hiroko still smiling blankly said that the reason she doesn’t talk about her past romance is that she loves Ogata so much. She was smiling because she was so in love, in a blissful state. Wow.

strong woman

JFF wanted to feature certain directors and actors in choosing Jap films to screen this year and last night, the focus was on Director Gosho Heinosuke and actress Takamine Hideko, who passed away in 2010 and whose filmology includes about 200 films (she started as a child star, 1929). Her roles are “powerful representative of the Japanese woman’s search for identity and autonomy in the years after World War II,” said the JFF Tribute to her.

In the film, Noriko (Takamine) was indeed the strong woman, stronger than the alpha-males and the woman protagonist. She kept on repeating, there’s hope for the dying baby when everyone even the doctor has given up, and she encouraged Kenzo (the guy who also rents the second storey of the couple’s house) to look for the parents of the baby, to never lose hope. Noriko also talked to the landlady Hiroko when she almost committed suicide in the river, while the husband Ogata was just looking on, not knowing what to do with the wife who walked into the river.

love, no doubt

The film has efforts in putting Trust at the center Love, as two couples in love struggle to keep a relationship that stands on uncertainty (Do you love me?), obscurity (I don’t know anything about your past), and doubt (Do you really love me?) or what I call the World War ruins.

As for the title, here’s the synopsis. It’s an important metaphor in the story:

The ‘chimneys’ in the title refer to the factory smokestacks that abound in Kitasenju, a working-class district in Tokyo. Depending on where they are viewed from, they can appear to be two, three or four, much like the realities of life.

Here I see one function of the film festival. While it could be pleasure for many people to see Jap films, others see it as a way of understanding their culture and the world history. The way we see it, Japan was all horrible in the 1940s (Singapore and the Philippines share this horror history). But if you look from where they stand, their people also lost a lot of things and people to the war, including their trust in Life and Love.


JFF is brought to the public by the Singapore Film Society–“Singapore’s longest-established organization promoting the appreciation of film as a medium of both art and entertainment.”


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