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Women Directors Drive New Japanese Omnibus Film

Japanese multihyphenate Kiko Sugino (“Snow Woman”) will produce an omnibus film directed by seven women from Asian countries, the project’s executive producer Kousuke Ono (“Kinki”) revealed at the Platform Busan forum on Sunday. Ono was participating in a discussion on Asian omnibus films moderated by Busan International Film Festival Asian cinema programmer Kim Young-woo. Another omnibus film, “21st Century Girl,” produced by U-ki Yamato (“Drowning Love”), is a collection of 14 eight-minute shorts by women directors, including one by Yamato herself. The film will have its world premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival in November.

At the discussions, producers and directors of omnibus films spoke about the challenges of making and distributing what is effectively a niche sub-genre in Asia. The current trend of producing omnibus films in Asia was kicked off by 2015’s “Ten Years,” a deeply political collection of five shorts that envisaged Hong Kong 10 years in the future in 2025. The film was a box office success and led to “Ten Years Thailand,” “Ten Years Taiwan” and “Ten Years Japan,” all of which are playing in the Busan festival, and will be released in Hong Kong later this year.

“It was controversial because it was critical of the government,” said “Ten Years” project producer Felix Tsang.

“Ten Years Thailand” is also political. “I looked at Thailand and we have a lot of political problems. We thought we’ll address the issues, using the medium of cinema,” said Aditya Assarat, director of one of the “Thailand” segments. “It’s a big problem we are facing now,” said fellow “Thailand” filmmaker Chulayarnnon Siriphol. “Censorship in Thailand is quite strong. You have to control your ideas. In films you have to find a way to go under the wall – say what you say, but not directly.”

For “Ten Years Taiwan,” the filmmakers tried to find the idea of the country. “Taiwan is a fast-changing place, it’s almost like a new country,” said “Taiwan” executive producer James C. Liu. “We don’t really know what Taiwan means,” said Rina B Tsou, one of the five “Taiwan” directors. “This could be a good thing because the five of us are totally different and we don’t overlap.”

For “Ten Years Japan,” the team asked 30 filmmakers to submit ideas. These were whittled down to 12 and and finally five made the cut. The project was mentored by Hirokazu Kore-eda. “People like to categorize,” says “Japan” producer Miyuki Takamatsu. The project did not fit any of the Japanese distributors’ existing categories and in the end the producers are releasing the film in Japan themselves.

Similarly, the producers of “Thailand” are self-distributing, once the film clears the censors. It is not easy in Taiwan either. “An omnibus film from a distributor perspective is very difficult,” says Liu. “It’s challenging at the moment. If we can find an internet platform, we can showcase it internationally.”

Kim was categorical about distribution of omnibus films in Korea. “It’s not possible to release these films in Korea,” he said.

Matters are rosier in Bangladesh. Abu Shahed Emon, the creative producer of “Sincerely Yours, Dhaka” a Bangladeshi omnibus film by 11 directors that premiered in Busan on Sunday, is upbeat about the film’s box office prospects when it opens in Bangladesh in early 2019. “This is a major ensemble cast with 33 major actors,” said Emon. “We’ve also recorded a rap song specially for the film. It should be popular.”

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