I was asked by someone the other day what I was going to be doing over the weekend. I answered cheerfully, ‘I’m going to a festival!’ ‘But Glastonbury isn’t until next year…’ was the response. After I had explained to him that I would actually be watching films in London with other cinephiles instead of trying out some illegal substances in a muddy field it dawned on me that, as of the start of this week, I have never experienced either a film or a music festival. The word ‘festival’ itself has always seemed quite mythic to me, the domain of people older than myself. Which is why the BFI London Film Festival has been so darned exciting, despite the fact that for me it is almost over.
Today I saw two films that I both thought were powerful, but in wildly different ways. The first was Wolf Children, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who also did something called The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (which is supposed to be good, but I haven’t seen it). We follow a woman called Hana who falls in love with a wolfman, bears two children with him, and struggles to bring them up. As the children grow they begin to wonder what the future holds for them, as does Hana, who tries to shield them from the eyes of the neighbours. The whole wolf element seemed, certainly to me, to be almost secondary in terms of narrative to the depiction of motherhood. Hana faces not only the fact that her kids can turn into feral animals, but every part of normal motherhood too; the fear of your children leaving you, fights at school, and so on. As I actually took my mother to the film I was deeply moved, and the stunning visuals (with an amazing attention to detail) make this the best 2D-animated film I’ve seen for a long while.
Right on the other end of the spectrum is The Samurai That Night, which focuses around an unstable iron worker (Nakamura) intent on avenging his late wife, leaving threatening notes at the killer’s home to prove it. It’s a very intense film that relies very much around the performances of the actors to invoke meaning (its stage-play origins are very clear). Masato Sakai, though I had seen him in Key of Life just two days earlier, was on a totally different plane; a brooding, sinister and thoroughly uncomfortable performance as the main character. I had reservations: I felt that the character of Kijima, the murderer, was too one-sided and lacked any sort of depth. Yet it was a film that provoked a lot of discussion afterwards as to the motives of its lead; it was dark, psychological, tense and, perhaps, a little ambiguous.