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Moira Sullivan is a member of FIPRESCI , Swedish Film Critics Association, GALECA The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics,and Alliance for Women Film Journalists. She writes for these venues:

 


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Midnight Swan wins Golden Mulberry at Udine Far East Film Festival 23

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Midnight Swan took home the top prize , the Golden Mulberry, at the The Far East Film festival (FEFF) now in its 23 year , a beautifully made,  excellently crafted film written and directed by Eiji Uchida . Nagisa (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi  and former SMAP boyband musician) from Hiroshima moves to Tokyo to work in the Shinjuku district as a nightclub entertainer with other MTF transgenders. When asked to take care of her niece Ichiko (14 year old ballet dancer Misaki Hattori) whose mother Saori (Asami Misukawa) has a substance abuse problem, she agrees to take her in and enrolls her in a Tokyo middle school. Through a classmate, Rin (Rinka Ueno), Ichiko tries out for lessons at a ballet studio. At first she is cautious of her "aunt" Nagisa but eventually their bond grows strong and Uchiko's ballet talents develop and deepen with meticulous skill. Rin and Ichiko secretly work for studio photographers to pay for Ichiko's ballet lessons that exploit youth for a pedophile market and are get caught. Nagisa is so impressed by Ichiko that she takes a job at a packing firm and discards her female clothing to fit in with macho male workers to pay for her lessons and competitions where she wants to dance a piece from the Swan Lake opera. 

Eiji Uchida explained at a recent press conference of Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) that there are not many transgender actors in Japan today but that two actors are in the film. Tsuyoshi Kusanagi explained that he sympathized and was moved to tears by his character Nagisa and how she develops maternal instints for Ichiko. Uchida hopes that awareness will grow in Japan for transgenders and that his film will make a difference. 

The FEFF Silver Mulberry went to Maeda Koji's screwball comedy about two misfits in You're Not Normal, Either!  Taiwanese director  and Chen Yu-hsun's romance fantasy My Missing Valentine won the Crystal Mulberry.  A 2020 Taipei Golden Horse multiple winner the colorlful well-crafted films is about Yang Hsiao-chi (Patty Pei-Y Lee), a young woman out of synch with time who loses her Valentine and a day making for an interesting non-inear narrative. Black Dragon pass holders to the Udine festival also voted My Missing Valentine as their favorite.

The 2021 Golden Mulberry Award for Lifetime Achievment went to Bologna's L'Immagine Ritrovata film restoration laboratory such as the Internal Affairs trilogy with Andy Lau and Alan Mak (latest film shown at the festival) and Wong Kar Wai's six masterpieces: In the Mood For Love, Hong Kong Express, Happy Together, Fallen Angels, Days of Being Wild and As Tears Go By.

Patrons of Mymovies.it  that platformed the online version of the festival  selected Soi Cheang's Hong Kong black and white thriller Limbo that premiered at this year’s Berlinale. A good cop/bad cop and serial murderer noir includes s a woman who lives in the streets, Wong To (Cya Liu)  who outdoes all in her endurance and tenacity.  The film is shot in black and white and that does not just mean two colors, for the film is luminescent with charcoal and grays, silver metallic colors and bright whites. Cheang said at the press conference that he debated about using black and white cinematography but decided on it and was clear about what he wanted to show artistically. This includes  Buddha statues which are actually located in the Hong Kong slums that watch over everyone, plenty of garbage, and mannequin parts of women. The serial murderer pushing a shopping cart is played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi who was General Sanpo from Wilson Yip’s Ip Man).

In the "first feature" section the the White Mulberry was awarded to Hand Rolled Cigarette by Chan Kin-Long and a special mention went to Anima, Mother Nature Rules! by Chinese director  Cao Jingling. (Fortissimo Films - North American premiere August 2021). The original Mongolian title is Mo Er Dao Ga  and the film is set in the 1980s in the Moerdaoga National Forest Park in Inner Mongolia, China’s oldest primary forest. The narrative opens on a lumberjack camp where Linzi (Chuan-jun Wang) and his older brother Tutu (Si Li Geng) work on a crew. They are part of the Ewenki tribe that traditionally raise reindeer. Director Cao Jinling grew up knowing members of this tribe.  But as times have changed Linzi and Tutu become tree cutters in an area that is exploited and against the law. Some trees should not be cut down, which is the central conflict in the film. Cao Jinling explained at the FEFF press conference that she has created this narrative about a deep ecological issue through a personal story. The two brothers vie for an independent widow (Chun) played by Xiqi who Linzi met when he accidently gets caught in a hunter trap she has rigged. Chun is strong and winds up saving Linzi a couple of times. This beautiful film is photographed by Mark Lee Ping-Bing. The musical score by Lim Giong includes Ewenki folksongs and a song played on a Mongolian Horse headed fiddle with lyrics by Cao Jinling.

Not since Tetsuya Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls (Japan 2004) has a film on female street warrior gangs made such an impact as Jigoku-No-Hanazono OFFICE ROYALE (Japan 2021) , featured at this year’s FEFF festival by director Kazuaki Seki and written by Bakarhythm.  Office Lady (OL) yankī ,  a subculture of rival working class women gangs with Toshiro Mifune dialects challenge each other but the fiercest warrior is Ran Hojos (Alice Hirose). Unbeknownst to the rival gangs is the mightiest OL at her company.  Like Momoko (Kyoko Fukado) from Kamikaze Girls, the seemingly innoncent Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano) grew up with relatives in rural gangs and carried the strongest genes of the family. As a young girl, she reads manga like Crows, Shabako and Bebob and keeps her talents hidden. Duels between rival gangs composed of transgender and cis-female warriors lead to a match with warrior master and the toughest OW of all : Tomson's Reina Manimura (Eiko Koike).

The Far East festival is organized by the Center for Cinematographic Expression(CEC) in Udine Italy, the festival headquarters, headed by festival President Sabrina Baracetti with a crew of consultants  located in Asian countries who recommend the best films for the current year. The festival features press conferences, daily meetings with directors and film experts in Asian cinema and panel discussions about new trends in Asian Cinema from Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. The festival screens new popular films from Asia and directors attend or are available in video conferencing making Udine almost the next stop after the films release in their countries or at festivals.

There are always retrospectives of important Asian directors and this year the late actor/director Eddie Garcia from the Philippines was honored: director of over 37 Filipino films and actor in 700 films and television productions. Garcia died in 2019 at 90 after an accident on the set of a picture. He was known for playing villains but in 2012 he played a 60+ closeted gay man whose best friend was his beloved dog, Bwakaw, the name of the film and screened at the festival.

©Moira Sullivan All Rights Reserved  2021-07-03

©Filmfestivals.com  All Rights Reserved  2021-07-03

©Movie Magazine International San Francisco  All Rights Reserved 2021-07-03

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