During the 1980s and 90s, Hong Kong cinema’s popularity spread across Asia. In Japan, stars like Jackie Chan entered the mainstream and became a part of local pop culture. Since then, Asian cinema – perhaps with the exception of Korean films – has become somewhat of a niche in Japan, overshadowed by homegrown and Hollywood blockbusters.
Nevertheless, die-hard fans of Asian cinema still exist in Japan today, and few places offer a chance to indulge that obsession better than the Osaka Asian Film Festival, held during March this year.
Unlike the more glamourous Tokyo International Film Festival, OAFF – organised by the Osaka Executive Committee for the Promotion of Moving Image Culture – has a singular focus: to promote Osaka as a platform for showcasing Asian films.
Having just completed its 13th year, OAFF – whose sponsors include Cathay Pacific – has become one of the world’s biggest and best showcases of Asian cinema, both commercial and arthouse.
In addition to films from major players like Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, festival programming director Sozo Teruoka’s diverse lineup also played films from southeast Asia and has a section dedicated to the latest Japanese independent films.
The city of Osaka and the surrounding area also make this a film festival worth attending, even for middling film fans. All of the festivals’ events are held in the Umeda area, where four different rail systems converge. Its main venue – ABC Hall, below the Asahi Broadcasting Corporation building – is a 10-minute walk away from the nearest JR train station, but the walk takes you alongside the beautiful Aji River and is well worth it.
The other two venues – Cine Libre at Umeda Sky Building and the Umeda Burg 7 cinema – are closer to Umeda station, and give an option to explore the large department stores or the giant Grand Front Osaka mall in the area, offering plenty of great dining options.
The festival includes filmmakers from across Asia and this year guests from Hong Kong, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia attended.
Hong Kong Night – an event dedicated to Hong Kong cinema – attracted the most people and one of this year’s biggest names to visit the festival was Hong Kong actor Chapman To.
He was here to present his latest directorial effort, martial arts drama The Empty Hands, but also held an hour-long seminar to share his views on the Hong Kong film industry and also received this year’s Asia Star lifetime achievement award.
Many of the Japanese audience members chatted enthusiastically about the Hong Kong films they had seen at this year’s festival and fawned with loving nostalgia every time a classic Hong Kong film was mentioned. It did appear that Hong Kong cinema is still alive and well in the hearts of many Japanese film buffs after all.
In fact, Hong Kong films often perform well with both OAFF’s audiences and jury. After Mad World won last year’s Grand Prize, this year’s jury bestowed the top award to No. 1 Chung Ying Street, a controversial black-and-white drama about two generations of Hong Kong social activists. Hong Kong also picked up the Audience Award for a second consecutive year, with romantic comedy Love Off the Cuff taking the honour.
Like many large-scale Japanese events, the OAFF is well-organised and tightly scheduled down to the second. The audiences are exceptionally well-behaved, always quiet during the screening and staying in their seats until the lights come back on in the cinema.
Those who make the effort to attend are always rewarded with an insight into current trends of the diverse world of Asian cinema, as well as a perfect opportunity to explore a beautiful city.