Tokyo has an appetite for foreign culture — and film is always on the menu. A Tokyo regular since 2001, the EU Film Days festival is screened also in Kyoto and Hiroshima every year. This year, however, due to the coronavirus outbreak, it was on the verge of being cancelled despite fans’ eager anticipation. Luckily, the organizers found a way to still deliver Europe’s best stories on film to us.
This year’s EU Film Days 2020 edition will be streamed online, from June 12 to June 25, bringing the audience 21 works from 20 European countries. The silver lining of going online is that anyone currently in Japan can watch the films, often from the comfort of their apartments. While all 21 films are worth watching, we’ve put together a short list of our most highly recommended titles for those who are still wondering what films to check out first. Enjoy!
Ne Bom Vec Luzerka (My Last Year as a Loser), Slovenia
This film cuts straight into our zeitgeist of millennials without steady jobs, unclear future, living with one’s parents, and drifting apart with friends. Intertwining the political and the personal, director Ursa Menart shares us the story of the millennial young woman part of whom many of us can painfully associate with: over-educated yet spending most of her time at her precarious part-time job, lonely and feeling like a complete loser while all of her friends move abroad to find a better future. Sadly, a universal story but at least it has Ljubljana, Slovenia as a setting.
Directed by Ursa Menart / Starring: Eva Jesenovec, Živa Selan, Jurij Drevenšek, Saša Pavček, Branko Završan, Špela Rozin
This poignant and beautiful film is an autobiographical story about the childhood of one of the most celebrated female poets and writers in Europe, Vizma Belševica. The award-winning film depicts events starting in the late 1930s, an emotionally charged pre-war period, crucial for the whole of Europe as well as for the life and development of a bright child born in a troubled family.
Directed by: Inara Kolmane / Starring: Ruta Kronberga, Elina Vane, Arturs Skrastins
Iloisia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja (Happier Times, Grump), Finland
Art films have been known to get pretty dark, but comedy is always around the corner. This Finnish film mixes a heavy helping of humor with the drama of family, not unlike real life. After all, the titular Grump character is getting ready for his death (he’s literally building his coffin), but his granddaughter crashes those plans by moving in. The rest is a heartwarming story of camaraderie between the oldest and the youngest family member who happen to have a lot to teach each other.
Directed by Tiina Lymi / Starring: Heikki Kinnunen, Satu Tuuli Karhu, Elina Knihtilä, Jani Volanen
Sci-fi fans shouldn’t miss this Swedish gem, based on one of the rare few works of sci-fi that have won a Nobel Prize for Literature. What happens after the Earth ends? In a nightmare scenario that is evermore often mentioned today, Earth is destroyed and humans head for Mars. However, the Aniara spaceship is doomed to a Ulysses-like lonely drifting.
Directed by Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja / Starring: Emelie Jonsson, Arvin Kananian, Bianca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Peter Carlberg, and Emma Broomé
Kinder des Kalifats (Of Fathers and Sons), Germany
A gut-wrenching documentary by a Syrian refugee living in Germany who went back to Syria just to make it. Talal Derki gains the trust of a radical Islamist family, where the father is indoctrinating the children with his extremist views. The filmmaker lived with the family for two years, focusing on the children and their own dreams despite their parental influence, or because of it. It’s a complicated topic, but the documentary that was nominated in the Academy Awards opens up crucial conversations.
Directed by Talal Derki
The Secret of Kells (Ireland)
An animated film with a dreamlike storybook quality, “The Secret of Kells” is a masterpiece of European animation. The film has been painstakingly and beautifully drawn, deserving of its Academy Awards nomination for Best Animated Film. Both the aesthetic and the plot call back to Celtic spirituality, resulting in a mesmerizing film about a boy called Young Brendan who goes on a quest through an enchanted forest. Released over 10 years ago, it’s shaping up to be a timeless title, akin to fairy tales that have been enchanting us for centuries.
Directed by Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey / Starring: Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Christen Mooney
For other animated films, also check out the Czech Republic’s “Malý Pán (Little Man)” made entirely with marionettes. For another heartwarming story caught up in complicated politics, see “Smuggling Hendrix,” a drama-comedy about a man who needs to cross the Buffer Zone in Cyprus that separates the “Greek South” from the “Turkish North” to find his runaway dog.
How to watch
The films are accessible only in Japan, and a free registration to the streaming venue Aoyama Theater is required. It is in Japanese but the required information is minimal and easily translatable in your browser.
All works will be available only for the festival’s duration (June 12 to June 25, the streaming of some titles will end sooner). Single films can be watched within 72 hours after purchase, while paying to see a package of films gives you 120 hours to watch all the films in it. Once you register to the platform, films can be streamed on your computer or phone, for a small fee (¥300 per film, or ¥500 per package).
So whether you’ll savour the novelty of “going” to a European film festival in your pajamas, or cling to some normalcy by dressing up and cracking open a nice bottle of wine for the occasion, there is no reason to miss one of Tokyo’s great slices of culture.