In this week's edition of Asian Cinema Scene, we cover the unexpected and the surprising.
Oscar Shocker: One of the few genuine surprises of last night's Oscar telecast was the victory by Japan's Departures (Okuribito) as Best Foreign Language Film. Most observers thought that Israel's Waltz with Bashir or France's The Class would win; the former won the Golden Globe, while the latter picked up the Independent Spirit Award.
Of course, most observers haven't actually seen Departures, which played the Montreal film festival rather than Toronto last fall, and had its US Premiere at the Hawaii Film Festival shortly thereafter. As I reported in January, Regent Releasing acquired distribution rights and announced summer release plans. Regent has already updated the film's official site to reflect the Academy Award victory, but there's no word yet on whether they might push the release up to take advantage of the attention.
Yojiro Takita's film follows a young musician who is forced to take a job preparing corpses for cremation. It's a movie about "finding your bliss, even if the world thinks your bliss is odd, icky and a marriage breaker," as described by Mark Schilling in The Japan Times. Four subtitled clips are available at the official site.
Banned in China: As disheartening as it may be to hear, it's not really surprising that China's censors refused to pass Derek Yee's Shinjuku Incident because it is "too violent," according to the director (as reported by Variety). What is surprising is that the film stars Jackie Chan. The excellent-looking trailer is embedded below.
After the jump: More on Shinjuku Incident.
Chan is a worldwide star, but he's taking a calculated risk by standing behind director Yee's refusal not to cut his movie. Chan is also a producer on the $25 million project, which has been described as more drama than action. (That seems to be borne out by the trailer, which highlights the drama just as much as the action.) The official site says "Jackie will present a side in Shinjuku Incident never before seen by his audiences."
The film focuses on foreign immigrants in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, Japan. Chan plays Steelhead, "an honest, hardworking tractor repairman" who makes the journey only after losing track of his girlfriend, who left China in search of better things. He ends up pitted against the Yakuza. Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu, Xu Jinglei, Masaya Kato, and Fan Bingbing also star.
Mainland China represents a substantial portion of the Asian audience, so I have to applaud the decision by Yee and Chan to hold fast to their artistic vision. Shinjuku Incident opens in Hong Kong on April 2; so far, it hasn't been picked up for US distribution.