Feel “freedom, uncertainty, and happiness” together—again

This year, an autumn of film and smiles has come to the town of Yamagata once again. With the festival last held online, it has been four years since it was held in person—what encounters await us this time? Between last September, when we began accepting submissions, and this past spring, when we marked the deadline, over 2100 films from all over the world were brought together in Yamagata. By now, it is no surprise to see images produced using state-of-the-art equipment such as smartphones or drones, and many films also bear the shadow of plagues and wars. On the other hand, if we look deep into the casually cropped frames, we may find and converse with the figure of the creator, as they hesitate and think. Surely the genuine thrill and joy of watching a film is to unexpectedly encounter images that grant us such moments.

We know that there are many filmmakers, cinematographers, producers, critics, and projectionists, who are drawn to and literally put their lives on the line to immerge themselves in the art of film— seeking neither financial gain nor fame, but merely having lived or now living sincerely with film. Throughout all these years, this film festival has shone a light on these people’s existence, has given us a place to encounter and know their work and achievements. Noda Shinkichi, for whom we will hold a large-scale retrospective this year, is a good example. The countless images that Noda left on film convey to us now, in 2023, the essence and social critique of their time, even as we also find in them traces of his struggles with his subject, the passion he directed towards re-examining his approach to film, all bearing a newness that extends to the present day.

This film festival, which began thirty-four years ago in this city, has been sustained by the passion of young Yamagata women and men inspired by Ogawa Shinsuke, giving it its exhilaration. There have also been organizers from the region who remained there steadfastly advancing regional screenings—the late Miyazawa Hiraku, who was the cornerstone of the festival office when it was administered out of Yamagata City Hall, and Takahashi Takuya, the former office director who passed away suddenly last year. The night before the start of the festival, under the night skies of Zao, they experienced “feelings of freedom, uncertainty, and happiness that come with meeting something unpredictable” (YIDFF 2017 Official Catalog). These were probably a sense of awe born out of imagining encountering films and creators overflowing with passion, coming together from all over the world, transcending time and space, all ages and regions—drawn in and caught up in the whirlpool of that passion. In this era enamored with saving as much time and labor as possible when tackling any task, we would like to take up as-is the role of those organizers who simply and unpretentiously offered those “primordial” experiences of film. And for all of the participants in this year’s festival, I hope that, here in Yamagata, you will feel the passion of others, be stirred up yourself, speak freely, and have the liberty to rejoice in the freedom of awaiting tomorrow’s encounters with uncertainty and anticipation.

In closing, this 18th iteration of the festival has received administrative and financial support from many organizations, companies, universities, and individuals. Just as this festival was feeling the effects of the Cultural Affairs Department reducing all domestic aid, facing a budget decreased by several million yen—in particular, insufficient funds for inviting guests due to the sudden rise in the cost of fuel—it received assistance from Unifrance and several other cultural and educational organizations. Without their assistance, it would have been impossible to invite the directors in the two competitive categories to Yamagata, as we have always done in the past. Once more, I would like to express my deepest gratitude.

Kusakabe Katsuyoshi
Director, YIDFF Yamagata Office


Now, Here

Following upon the COVID-19 pandemic, the biennial Yamagata Film Festival will welcome audiences back to physical venues for the first time in four years. The experience of completely changing how we lived before the onset of the virus continues to cast a shadow over our daily lives. War, natural disaster, human rights violations, and other abominable world events sometimes coincided with the deaths of those close to us at the festival. These knocked us off our sure footing to some degree, and our daily lives became imbued with an uncomfortable sense of perpetual instability. At least we must try to be happy that we are able to gather here in this place called a film festival, where people are brought together and encounter one another.

The Opening Film, Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus, directed by Sora Neo, is the first and last full-length film of a concert by musician Sakamoto Ryuchi, created with him. This homage to Sakamoto, who is famous in Japan for his long and sincere engagement with the Tohoku region, will also offer an opportunity for us to commemorate all the filmmakers, critics, film festival staff, and friends who were involved in YIDFF in some way and have now passed on. On the festival screen this year there are films woven out of music and images, and those that travel through time and space inviting us on adventures.

They bring to life in cinematic form words, songs, and voices that emanate from Cape Verde, Asakusa, a rural village in Mali; as well as a rural Chinese town and the Paris subway of times past. It is a preeminent collection of works, that take shape from hard-to-discern bodies, faces, and expressions brought to us from a bus terminal in Argentina or a room in Myanmar, to which are added voices and sounds we can hear. On a certain street in South Korea, a world without sound and time is interwoven with light and darkness.

We will also hold the first large-scale retrospective of filmmaker Noda Shinkichi. This year happens to mark both the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 30th of his death. Although Noda directed numerous works about Tohoku (for example the “Festivals in Tohoku” series, screened in the Noda program this time) he never attended YIDFF before his passing. Nonetheless we have screened his works from the early years of the festival, and our Celebration of his works this time will engulf us in its eddies, surely filling us with new life. The trajectory of documentary film has sometimes intersected with that of YIDFF. In order to live, it is with others that we experience sadness, joy, anxiety, and relief. Film festivals act as a protective envelope around people’s hearts, which are calmed and liberated by the films.

Our jurors for the International Competition are the astute film critic Erika Balsom who will be visiting Yamagata for the first time; filmmakers Zhang Lu and Chen Chieh-Jen; Yang Yonghi who showed her film in 2021 but as the festival was held online we are looking forward to meeting in person again this time; and director Oskar Alegria, who we are happy to say is bringing a marvelous new film.

The judges for New Asian Currents include some familiar faces, including director Tan Kai Syng, who participated in YIDFF 2001, and director Lim Kah Wai, who was also involved in the distribution of the YIDFF 2021 Grand Prize-winning film Inside the Red Brick Wall (2020).

In the film-watching world that YIDFF creates, in which some everyday thing that seems to be nothing much at all is illuminated as having value, and we live a vibrant passing of time that allows us to embrace it. Together, the audience and filmmakers live this together, rejoicing in both new encounters and reunions, regretting goodbyes, and then looking forward to fresh encounters. We sincerely hope that this irreplaceable time that opens up the future will spread in myriad permutations again this year, and we bid you welcome to them.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the support and cooperation of the many diverse people that have made this year’s film festival possible.

Hama Haruka
Director, YIDFF Tokyo Office