Nine films, three lectures, two workshops, one awards ceremony, and nineteen hours of train travel later, my time at Nippon Connection has come to an end, and I am back into the action-packed swing of the OCS program in Berlin. I’ll keep posting my reactions to the films and other events over the course of the next week or so (since it is beyond even my blogging capabilities to post on five films in one day, and honestly, who among you, even my most devoted readers, would have the time to read five blog posts in one day, no matter how wonderfully-crafted they may be?), but in the mean time, I’d like to take a few moments, or paragraphs, to reflect on the festival in general.
I haven’t been to Cannes or Sundance (facts I hope to change in the not-too-distant future), but I think there is something unique about Nippon Connection. As a showcase of national cinema outside its nation, the festival’s focus is broader than a mere slate of high-profile films with high-profile directors and high-profile attendees at the events. Nippon Connection extends itself into a sort of symposium of Japanese culture that centers on film but is not limited to it — so many free lectures and workshops on all things Japanese, udon and sushi and takoyaki available at every turn, a gaming room, tea and sake lounges, constant karaoke each night. On the one hand, it’s really cool to see a film festival being morethan a film festival, becoming a cultural event — but at the same time, I wonder if by distilling Japanese ‘culture’ into a microcosmic world within the festival, we are limiting a view of Japaneseness to a set of metonymical objects or practices, a sum total of sake, tea, DDR, sushi, and karaoke.
Taking into consideration the level of collaboration between Japan and Germany in the organization of the festival, I think that both the intentions and the outcomes of this collaborative cultural exploration in the form of a film festival are good. Whenever we try to define culture, or anything for that matter, we do run the risk of stereotyping, but we cannot abandon classification altogether in a vain attempt to offend no one or to make no distinctions in the fear that all distinctions will be inherently Otherizing. There is a genuine curiosity and good-will brimming up out of every aspect of Nippon Connection, among the Western and Japanese people involved alike. And this year in particular, there is a solidarity and empathy among all of the attendees to help Japan in light of the Sendai earthquake and all of its many repercussions — Saturday night’s big event was the “Help Japan” party, the ticketing proceeds of which are all going to the relief effort. There was a campaign to fold 1000 paper cranesfor the victims, and tons of Help Japan buttons were getting sold each day.
So, I think, this year more than ever, in spite of my intense Said-inspired misgivings about my own fixation on Japan and my projection of this uneasiness onto many Western examinations or treatments of the country and its culture, Nippon Connection succeeds in its attempt to be more than just a film festival. It engages culture, without boxing it in, and for the year of 2011, it engages that culture in a way that is incredibly concrete — reaching out to a country and a people and a culture in need. And that, for anything, let alone a film festival, is commendable.