PIA Film Festival is one of the most interesting in Japan, particularly since its purpose, of finding and nurturing new filmmaking talents, has helped both the industry and a number of individuals immensely, kickstarting the career of directors like Sion Sono, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Tetsuya Nakashima and many others. In that regard, it is always interesting to take a look at the awards their jury gives every year. “Obake” won the Grand Prize in 2019, in a very intriguing effort since Hiromichi Nakao is DIY-style director who makes films all by himself.
Expectedly, his approach is experimental, frequently breaking the fourth wall, as the main “story” revolves around a lonely filmmaker who keeps making films by himself, eventually screening them to very small crowds in various screening rooms, and a couple of stars that watch his efforts from space, frequently commenting on his tactics. Eventually, the stars also proceed on shooting a movie.
Through much humor, particularly through the stars’ comments but also some bitterness, Nakao makes a movie about the hardships directors face in order to make films, particularly regarding the constant search for funds and the toll the hours they spend on their passion takes on their personal lives and their families. There is something compelling about watching the protagonist manufacture all the props we see on the film by himself and then the way he actually uses them, with the miniatures and the various lights highlighting both his effort and the difficulties he has to face, although the tone is usually that of the self-sarcasm, particularly when he explains why he shoots all his movies by himself.
Technically, the film functions as a kind of exercise in filmmaking, with Nakao using a plethora of cinematic tools and tactics. Long shots through steady cameras (probably fixed the camera somewhere in the parks and forests a large part of the film takes place, started recording, and then moved far from it to achieve this), self-made SFX, a kind of stop motion animation, real footage from his own films screenings, and some very intriguing shots supposedly inside train wagons, are just some of the elements featuring in “Obake”. This tactic highlights his many abilities, while I also found the use of music in the film impressive, with the ending track cementing this fact in the best way, and ending the movie with a rather cheerful note.
“Obake” is a very unusual film and I do not see it achieving commercial success. However, it is also a truly unique, original movie (for once not based on a manga or a novel), from an individual who seems to share the exact same values. It would be very interesting to see what he could achieve with the funds and the support he will receive from PIA.