Reisen er støttet av Utenriksdepartementets reisestøtteordning til profesjonelle filmfolk
This journey was supported by the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs' travelsupport for proffesional filmmakers.
A is for Arigatoe!
Arigatoe means thank you in japanese. Arigatoe Hiroshima! Arigatoe Culture fund! Arigatoe Sayoko! Thank you! Thank you!
Giving and receiving things with 2 hands while saying Arigatoe quickly became second nature, and there was only one occasion when, confused by jet lag, I blurted out 'Origami'.
A is, of course, also for Atom Bomb. The animation festival and the bomb have something in common, as the mayor of Hiroshima is also the president of the animation festival. To explain:
In 2008 I submitted a film to the festival - it didn't get selected, but Sayoko, the festival director, writes personally to each filmmaker to tell you if you are accepted or not. It is the best rejection letter I have ever received and I still have it: 'Although your film didn't make it into the final selection I personally was quite taken by it'.
The Mayor of Hiroshima also writes a lot of personal letters: of protest to the heads of state responsible whenever there's another nuclear test. I don't know if Obama has submitted any animations to the festival but he's certainly received at least 4 letters from the mayor regarding his nuclear tests.
The memorial park... a desperately moving place. Mobile phone pictures can not be expected to do it justice (and they don't). But... here you are ...
B is for bicycles.This was a surprise: Perhaps the best way to get around Hiroshima is by bike - cyclists trundle around all over the place like stray dogs. They've all evidently learnt to ride a bike in Marakesh. No lights. No rules. Many a time over the week did I find myself having to jump out the way of one cyclist only to be in the path of another and then 2 more and another one from behind. The trick is to ignore them and they flow around you like water. But it's very difficult to do this in practice.
B is also for Bowing. Something that comes remarkably naturally once you get into it. Exchanging stories with a fellow festival-goer of seeing the ground crew at the airport bow to the plane, and conductors on the trains turning to bow to the whole carriage, we agreed that 'we melted', witnessing this.
In practice it's a beautiful thing. But it's easy to get into a 'bowing war' if you misjudge the hierachy: for example, if the hotel cleaner bows to you, when you bow in return, make sure you do it less then they do, as otherwise they'll bow once more, going even lower, at which point you start to feel awkward.
B is also for blunder. I should get this out the way quickly, as it's quite boring but affected me badly at the time. My film suffered a technical problem, which resulted in the audio playing at 120% the speed and the last 2 and half minutes of the film being chopped off. I was going to have a nervous breakdown and so after 3 minutes I left the theatre.
3 days later another filmmaker (whose film was in competition) tracked me down saying 'Hey I looked you up in the catalogue - I really enjoyed your film! Really experimental! But I was confused by the ending...'
Touched as I was, I explained that the film wasn't that experimental, and that he couldn't have been confused by the ending as he hadn't seen it, the last 2.5 mins having been chopped off.
But it turns out he wasn't the only one who liked what turned out to be my 'weird experimental film'... More on that later. What did I learn from this? That you have to roll with the punches and adapt to the situation. Things are what they are and it turns out they're never that bad.
C is for chopsticks!
Two things happen on your first experience of the hotel breakfast.
1) Relief - that, hidden between all the strange foods that you can't possibly imagine eating at that time in the morning, there are some scrambled eggs on offer.
2) Panic - when you realise that you're going to have to eat that nice plate of scrambled eggs with chopsticks.
And once you've eaten scrambled eggs with chopsticks, you can do anything.
I had read about Okonomiyaki, a traditional dish of Hiroshima and was keen to try it. It's basically a mountain of fried cabbage and bacon compressed between two pancakes, cooked in front of you on a enormous flat grill. I chose a restaurant at random, and entered to find myself the only customer.
Tiny stools surrounded the flat grill. They looked very tempting to sit on, but i couldn't understand how one could eat while sitting there as there didn't seem to be any table surface for a plate. So I took a seat at a 'normal' table.
The Okonomiyaki was prepared and bought to me sliced into squares, about 3 cm across. This was even more tricky to eat with chopsticks that the scrambled eggs: the cabbage and bacon filling inevitably spilling out from between the pancake squares. I had almost completed my struggle when a japanese couple walked in and I got to see how it's supposed to work: You sit on the little stools, the Okonomiyaki is prepared and slid over to you in one piece. You are then handed a spatula with which you cut it up yourself and spoon it off the hot grill into your mouth. No need for the chopstick struggle. Just so you know.
I'd read about chopstick etiquette, and I'd had dreams before I left of offending people because i'd used my chopsticks incorrectly. But within an hour of arrival I was breaking all kinds of social conventions...
D is for Dumplings...Upon landing I was really hungry and panic bought a bento box from a screaming old lady at Osaka Train station. I had noticed her earlier while looking at another stall and thought 'Wow she seems completely mad'. 2 mins later I was giving her 700 yen for a small bento box. It didn't look like enough to fill me up so went to another stall and bought some pork dumplings - but there was a miscommunication and they were enormous - enough to feed 6.
Half of the box of dumplings.
See the square corner shape poking out from the bottom right Dumpling? I didn't....
On the train I decided to eat at least one of the dumplings - you're allowed to eat on the train - but these things stank - so I was very self conscious and tried to quickly and discretely eat one.
Remembering that according to chopstick etiquette you're allowed to eat large items with your hands, I picked one up and was about to take a bite when I noticed these little square mustard packs. My hands were too greasy so I tried using my teeth, but I still couldn't get it open. Finally, while gnawing at it like a wild animal the packet exploded in my mouth. Extremely hot mustard. Tears in my eyes and my nose on fire, I took a big bite of the dumpling.
Unfortunately the dumplings had been in the box for about 15 minutes and in that time they had adhered themselves to some balsa wood on the bottom of the box, which I also bit into.
I chewed for a while before realising that something definitely wasn't right. No, I had a mouthful of dumpling and... wood. I then committed a series of acts that would be deemed disgusting in any country let alone Japan, as I emptied the contents of my mouth into the bag the food it came in. I managed to perform this hideous manouvre without being seen. I think. I mean... Oh god... I hope so.
E is for Exchange rate.
I never did manage to figure out how many Yen there are to a Norwegian Krone....
F is for First sighting...
and here it is... my first sighting of Japan. Doesn't look like much but I was very excited at the time.
F is for films of course! Some were great, some were forgettable. But seeing such a mix made me realise that I demand one of 3 things from a film. Either:
1) You are going to take me on an emotional journey.
2) You have a key that opens a door in my brain that I didn't even know existed.
3) If you can't do either of the above, then make me laugh.
Quite a few films did none of those, and I can think of only one film that managed all 3, Don Hertzfelt's 'It's such a beautiful day'. Essentially made with stick figures, it's a wonderful piece and I was very glad that the judges thought so too, as it picked up an award.
F is also for Fight. Yes, I witnessed a fight in a japanese bar. In fact, I witnessed 3 fights in the same bar within an hour. Quite extraordinary, like something out of a cowboy movie, the disputes started up really quickly and suddenly 10, 12, 16, 20 japanese all jumping all over each other, small stools being thrown. It was insane. Those not involved having to quickly move out of the way as the swarming mass moved from dance floor to bar and back.
G is for Great Joy.
After running out of my own screening on the first day I came across this poster outside a temple / shrine thing just down the road from the festival hall. It proved to be correct.
G it is also for Generosity. The festival itself was incredibly generous with it's guests. An amazing array of parties and activities for the festival participants. It is impossible to have asked for more.
H is for Hiroshima
and it's idiosyncrasies... you can't smoke outside, for example. You have to smoke inside. If you're finding it too smokey in a bar, you take your drink outside with you. It's all backwards from what we're used to, people standing outside bars, drinking but not smoking.
A quiet Hirsohima scene that caught my attention....
Hirsohima has a spirit that seems to be personified by its baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp. I never got to see them, but I read about them: they're a useless team that never win any tournaments, but have a loyal and very vocal following. I'm not a baseball fan but this struck a chord with me... I mean... You know, if someone dropped an atom bomb on my city and we built it up from nothing, I wouldn't give a damn if our baseball team was any good or not either, but god knows I'd support them like they were the best team in the world.
I is for Insects.
They have some really weird insects over there. First of all they are much bigger than the insects we're used to over here, and secondly... they look really weird. It's easy to understand where all the crazy japanese monster designs come from.
J is for Jet-lag.
I never managed to recover (and I was not alone). After the third day I gave up trying to sleep and returned to Oslo having been awake for almost 4 days straight.
K is for ....Kyoto?No. I never made it to Kyoto. Perhaps I should have. I was too busy watching movies and meeting people. Which is I suppose what I was there for. So.. Sorry Kyoto, next time.
L is for Lappy.
Lappy is the name of the mascot for the festival. I never quite understood what Lappy stood for or what he (she?) was meant to be, but someone spent a lot of time inside a giant inflatable Lappy costume, jumping around in the corridors of the festival hall, and the absurdity of this sight never failed to make me smile.
M is for Moon.
Amazing as it sounds, they have the same moon as us. Really - everything else is so different you are genuinely surprised to see the same moon when you look up at the night sky.
N is for Networking.Not one of my business cards fell into the hands a japanese person, but I did meet wonderful filmmakers from Spain, Korea, Canada, Bulgaria, England and Switzerland.
O is for Otis.
This was a bar opposite the festival hall. The last thing I wanted to do in Japan was go to a bar filled with Norwegians, but that is exactly what Otis was and it became quite a magnet for all sorts of people and therefore, the above mentioned networking.
O is for Osman Cerfon. I met Osman at Otis bar on the first night. Osman's a lovely guy who won the Best Debut prize with his film 'Sticky Ends'. Here's an clip of his movie. It's fab :)
That of course was one of the reasons we were there - to meet other filmmakers. Prior to leaving, many of us had made business cards with a japanese translation on one side. I'm not sure any of us gave cards to any actual japanese people, but certainly the cards were put to good use.
O is also for Osaka. I only spent a few hours in Osaka as I waited for my flight home. It is a stark contrast to Hiroshima ... like comparing New York to Oslo. I never made it to Tokyo, but Osaka, for the few hours I was there, seemed like a fun place. I entered a sushi restaurant and all the staff cheered wildly. Turns out they did that everytime someone entered.
Train platform 2 or 3 stops outside of Osaka
Crazy digital water fountain outside Osaka Train Station ...
it really is just drops of water being released at the right time to make the images.
P is for Producer.
I mentioned earlier that there were some other people who enjoyed my 'experimental' film. Well, one of them it turns out, is a producer. And not just any producer: he's a norwegian producer. As a filmmaker working in Norway, having my films constantly rejected for funding because I 'Don't have a norwegian producer' gets quite frustrating. Hopefully those days are behind me as we seem to relate to each other.
Would you trust this man with your film?!? I am!
It's kind of funny that I had to travel half around the world to meet a norwegian producer, but hey, maybe that's the best way to meet someone. And at this point I say 'Arigatoe!' once more to the cultural fund for enabling me to travel to Japan and meet this man, who, it turns out, has his office less than 5 metres from where I made the film that was screened in Hiroshima. I know, I know... I can't believe it either.
Q is for Quarantine!
There were many things about my trip to Japan that were lucky, and this was the first: The day before setting off for Japan I had a fever. The day of travel I felt better but I would rather have stayed in bed. Over the course of the journey I recovered, and by the time we landed in japan I felt fine - and a good thing too, because the first thing that happens to you when you get off the plane is you get filmed by heat sensitive cameras, and if you have a temperature, you are led into quarantine. Ooops! So a good thing my flight wasn't a day earlier...
R is for Rental.
You can rent phones at the airport. I did this, as I had read that my own phone would not work in Japan. This was not correct. My phone worked fine once charged, and the rented phone didn't work at all. Well, maybe it did, but after the first menu screen everything was in japanese. So, yeah - don't bother renting a phone. You can also rent bikes, which I didn't find out about until the last day, when it was too late. That was a shame, because as I metioned earlier, bikes are possibly the best way to get around Hiroshima.
R is also for Regrets. I regret that I didn't get to meet some of the filmmakers whose work I really enjoyed. I wasn't able to as they weren't attending the festival. So that's something to learn, too: If you've got a film showing at a festival - make sure you go with it!
S is for Seven Eleven.
This was the only place we could take out money. So one ended up spending more time than expected in 7/11s. They're pretty great tho as they're filled with bizarre japanese candy and - strangely - they sell ham sandwhiches made out of the softest bread you've ever come across. This was not on my list of culinary expectations from japan, but I certainly wasn't the only one to notice it.
T is for 'Triangle',
a film I enjoyed very much. It satisfied one of my requirements for a film: the opening of a door in my brain that I didn't know existed. And here I am with it's creator, Grace Nayoon Rhee
T is also for Tram. Hiroshima has the largest tram network in japan apparently.
They're interesting. They make lots of noises. Kind of like being in a moving slot machine.
U is for Uncouth.
Yep. Compared to the japanese we are all barbaric cavemen. But aside from that dumpling incident on day one, I think I did quite well: only once did I catch myself waving chopsticks around unnecessarily, and I always managed to put them pointing to the left when I was done eating.
V is for Vending machines!
Quite how I was expected to adjust to life back in Oslo was a real concern... how would i survive without vending machines every 100m?
V is also for Velislav KazaKov, a canadian based Bulgarian animator who I had the great pleasure of meeting. His film 'Overcast' was in competition, and despite being the ONLY film in the ENITRE festival that the audience applauded twice for, and laughed almost all the way through, it didn't win the audience award. You were robbed Velislav! Robbed!
With Velislav, still laughing...
and here's one of Velislav's animations from the 80s. I love it.
W is for Whacky bar.
On the saturday night, myself and Dave King were trying to locate friends who were at the 'Whacky bar'. Lost, I asked some trendy looking young dudes if they knew where Whacky bar was. They looked at each other before pointing to their armpits. 'Waki' means armpit. Ooops.
Photographic proof that I was lost in Hiroshima with Dave King.
X is for X-rated.If the hotel TV is anything to go by, anything remotely naughty is pixellated out. Often the whole screen is just pixels. Maybe that's how they make porn in japan - they just pixellate normal programs and say it's porn.
Y is for Youmbi and Yoshiya...2 names I have scrawled on the back of business cards with no faces to attach them to... hmmmm...
Z is for 'zap! zap! zap!'... which is what it sounds like when traffic lights change and you can cross the street. It literally sounds like you're being shot at by a laser gun. Gets you across the street though.
And we've reached the end of a busy week. Boarding the flight that was to return me to Europe, as I made my way down the entrance ramp to the plane I wanted to say goodbye to Japan. So before anyone else came around the corner, I turned and gave a little bow: 'Arigatoe'.