Wednesday 26 April 2017

Colonel Panics - Ben Cho reports on a screening of his Australia-Japan co-production at the Yubari Film Festival

Go! Go! Yubari film festival

About two hours east of Sapporo lies the small town of Yubari, a former mining town now converted into a village for ski tourists. For most of the year it remains in a state of slumber but come March Yubari transforms into a blood-soaked mecca for sleaze, violence and the downright outrageous as the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival kicks off.

If Yubari sounds vaguely familiar then it might be because you know the name from Kill Bill: Tarantino named his Meteor-hammer wielding psychopathic schoolgirl Gogo Yubari allegedly in tribute to the town and its festival. You might also know it by sight if you’ve seen Hou Hsiao-hsien’s druggy masterpiece Millennium Mambo: it’s the snow-capped village with the main street decked out with old movie posters Shu Qi visits at the film’s close.

During the winter months the town is blanketed in snow, and with its dilapidated buildings and eerie quiet (save for the wind howls) you almost feel like you’re in the final shootout of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The famous movie posters seen in Millennium Mambo are still there and I spotted one French film critic in attendance eagerly getting snaps of them. Restaurants in the town are limited and prepare for very cold conditions (a foolish person would brave the sidewalks and roads without some kind of good gripping snow boots) but the town does have its own decaying beauty and the mountainous landscapes surrounding the area are certainly captivating.

One thing Yubari did very well this year was to assemble a fine array of guests to the town; no small feat considering its location. Na Hong-jin, who directed the closing film The Wailing, showed up with star Kunimura Jun; Tokyo Gore Police director and FX wizard Nishimura Yoshihiro was there to join in the fun; and many filmmakers from Japan, Korea and Malaysia also made the trip.

This year I made the trek with our cast and crew to represent Colonel Panics, a Japanese-Australian co-production which is in some senses a “genre” film but not really; I don’t think it provides the giddy pleasures of say, a Nishimura Yoshihiro gore-soaker, or the sexual thrills of a Flower and Snake title. But it does have a fair serving of sex, violence and sci-fi elements so I didn’t feel it was totally out of company in a festival featuring In Search of the U
ltra-Sex, Outdoor Begins or Mr. Taxi: Happy Rising.

We had a few screenings; the response was not wildly enthusiastic but this isn’t an easy film in many ways - the political dimensions are sure to alienate anyone slightly right-of-centre on the Japanese political spectrum and there aren’t any easy answers to the questions it poses about the political death awaiting the neo-nationalist brigade. Add to that, it’s a film that we wanted to take a few risks when it came to its form so it was never destined to be a crowd-pleaser. Having said that, we had some positive responses from audience members who seemed to want to grapple with the provocations within the film and it was a welcome opportunity to unveil it to Japanese audiences. Later I checked the Asia-Times which kindly mentioned us as a festival highlight and commented that the film was a “cyber giallo-infused ode to legendary Japanese Nagisa Oshima” which is a pretty fair description. Tokyo Weekender magazine declared it controversial and thought-provoking.

The town put on an incredible welcome for guests and as we rode into town in a bus people stood on the side of the road to wave at us with genial smiles. The same was true of the festival staff who took great care of us and were on hand to help with the language barriers.

Colonel Panics will be released on Blu-ray in France later this year and in a deluxe boxset in Germany next year. Please like our Facebook page for more updates:

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