Four essential queer films from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea

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LGBTQ + films from East and South East Asia screen in London in September as part of Queer East Film festival


The second edition of Queer East Film Festival launches in London this week, with 37 feature films from 15 countries each exploring how a queer landscape has been shaped across Asia in recent and distant history. With a focus on films that challenge conventional conceptions of family kinship and reinterpret the idea of ​​family through a queer lens, the festival aims to tackle inequalities both outside and within. within LGBTQ + communities – and features a stellar lineup of new and old movies.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Laurent, 1983

Among the most renowned works on display are two films by Nagisa Ōshima, a prolific and provocative director of the Japanese New Wave known for his sexually explicit cult classic. In the realm of the senses (1976). The latter’s release resulted in the director being indicted for obscenity in Japan – but his 1983 Palme d’Or-nominated anti-war classic Merry Christmas Monsieur Laurent (Sunday September 19, Catford Mews) was a little less disturbing.

Largely located in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia, Merry Christmas Monsieur Laurent would be acclaimed internationally for its dramatic and compassionate portrayal of East-West relations on foreign soil at the height of World War II. The film forgoes the action of typical war films in favor of an in-depth study of the human psyche, with eerie undertones marking the complex relationship between the film’s magnetic tracks – two titans of music in David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto .

The latter was also responsible for the film’s BAFTA-winning score – generally considered one of the greatest in film history, and a precursor to Sakamoto’s Oscar-winning score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film. The last emperor (1987), and later acclaimed works on The protective sky (1990) and The ghost (2015).

Gohatto, 1999

A second Ōshima film receives a rare screening in the UK on Saturday 25 September at the Genesis cinema. As Merry Christmas, Mr. Laurent, Ōshima’s last film Gohatto (also scored by Sakamoto) has an incredible cast – with director and TV personality Takeshi Kitano fresh off his own Golden Lion victory in Venice for the 1997 crime drama Hana-bi, appearing alongside the inimitable Tadanobu Asano in a queer samurai film set in the late 19th century. The atmospheric and tense drama, filled with lush cinematography and graceful camera work, was also nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2000 – and examines the disruption caused to a conservative military unit in Kyoto after a effeminate male teenager (the stunning Ryuhei Matsuda) joins the faction.

Years later, Kitano would star in the American remake of Ghost in the shell facing Scarlett Johansson. But Mamoru Oshii’s original 1995 anime premieres at Lexi on Thursday, September 23 – a cyberpunk sci-fi masterpiece that imagines a future where sexual reproduction has been replaced by mechanical replication. Philosophical and visually resplendent, this classic animated text has also been acclaimed for its traditional gender role reversal and portrayal of fluid sexuality, with cybernetic warrior Major grappling with questions of identity as she strives to reconcile his body and his mind.

Japanese lead director Naoko Ogigami is also in attendance via her touching 2017 film Tight knit (Monday September 20, Curzon Hoxton) – the story of a schoolgirl who visits her uncle’s apartment to find him living with a beautiful transgender woman. The director is also joining an online panel discussion on Saturday, September 18 to explore how East Asian female directors have promoted equality on screen and behind the camera.

Days, 2020

Beyond Japan, a selection of outstanding Taiwanese films marks some of Queer East’s best offerings – with the latest work from acclaimed master of slow cinema Tsai Ming-Liang (Goodbye, Dragon Inn) a highlight. Days (Sunday 19 September, Curzon Soho), nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, made its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last year – where it was commended for his tender representation of a sexual relationship between two men in Bangkok. The film, largely devoid of dialogue and built on long static shots, is deeply meditative – much like the works of another filmmaker working in Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul – and excels in the transcendence of its rich imagery and sound. dreamlike rhythm.

Another Taiwanese film closes the festival: Dear tenant (Sunday, September 26, Genesis Cinema) is the latest in Yu-Chieh Cheng – a domestic drama set in a rooftop apartment that weaves themes of love and sacrifice through multiple narrative strands. Chen Shu-fang, 81, a veteran known for her roles in the Hou Hsiao-hsien films, won the Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role. It portrays Ms. Chou, an elderly woman and landlady with advanced diabetes, who believes her tenant Chien-yi is responsible for the death of her eldest son; her former lover.

Moonlit winter, 2019

And South Korean cinema is in the spotlight via director Daehyung Lim, who received the Best Director award at the Blue Dragon Awards for Moonlit winter (Sunday September 26, Curzon Hoxton). The film tells the story of a college student who finds a love letter sent to her mother from the snow in Hokkaido, Japan, taking her on a journey to a mysterious past. It is a subtle and tender chronicle, which excels by its sobriety.

Further afield, long-lasting works from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia complement the festival’s rich programming, as well as a series of short films and lectures.

Queer East Film Festival runs September 15-26.


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