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Jam Films

Film
I have always been fascinated by short films and not just due to my limited attention span. The ability to portray a particular point in a concise yet effective manner is truly amazing. Due to their limited time period, these miniature movies often open up multiple human emotions by instantly addressing their subjects. These stories can be sweeter, more haunting and thought provoking than a conventional feature length film.

Moreover, the fact that a lot of short films are rare adds to the appeal and provides the movie with a unique and authentic feel. Therefore, imagine my delight when “Jam Films” came through my letterbox – a collection of seven short films that opens the portal to contemporary cinema. After a colourful and dynamic CG opening sequence, consisting of bald spacemen, distant worlds and vibrant mechanical designs, the mood is set for the wonderful yet bizarre Japanese shorts that are to follow. Created by a selection of Japan’s freshest and most enthusiastic directors, these films cover a wide variety of styles and predominantly feature dark comedy fused with erratic arthouse drama.

Jam Films

The first Jam Film is The Messenger – Requiem for the Lost Souls, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. This haunting and immensely atmospheric film depicts the tale of an underworld gang leader visited by a mysterious woman calling herself the messenger. The boss believes her to be nothing more than an urban myth – a female assassin who eliminates those that cross her path. However this woman’s words will not only change his life but will reach out to his very soul. With already Versus and Azumi under his belt, Kitamura is one of Japan’s most promising rising directors. He knows how to be stylish and create a chilling tone, whilst maintaining thick suspense with his punctual dialogue. As usual, his trademark obscure angles and smooth gunplay feature predominantly in this film and will undoubtedly please his fans.

Tetsuo Shinohara directed the next film entitled Kendama and tells a sweet little story about a worker, Fujikara, who receives a kendama from his boss. Initially disregarding the kendama to be a mere child’s toy, Fujikara passes it on to his co-worker, Akagi who runs off with it. After realising that perhaps the kendama has more value than meets the eye, Fujikara sprints off after Akagi. However, he has no idea that the toy has mysteriously been passed onto a couple, who just wanted onions for their hamburgers. This is a charming movie that has been beautifully shot and utilizes a pleasant sense of humour. The story explores the strengths of a somewhat awkward relationship and indicates that there is yet hope despite the uncertainty of a situation.

Next up is Cold Sleep, written and directed by George Ida – the director of Rasen (the first sequel to Ringu). The mood subtly changes from loneliness to oddness in this quirky science fiction comedy. A man emerges from a ‘cold sleep’ and is shocked to discover that he is alone in an abandoned school. The “28 Days Later” feel is swiftly removed when he encounters adults dressed and behaving like infants. The only person who appears to have any idea of what is going on is an undeniably sexy woman. The humour is remarkably random and at times very slapstick. The photography is gorgeous, especially the desert scenes and the colour scheme applied truly gives this short a distant feel.

Jam Films

Pandora – Hong Kong Leg is written and directed by Rokuro Mochizuki and is my favourite short film in the collection. Incidentally, it is also the most bizarre, illustrating the story of a woman who suffers from a constant itch on her toes. Ashamed of her condition, she resorts to the aid of an unusual stranger who claims that he can solve her problem. The woman delves deep into an unforeseen sexual fetish involving her toes being licked by an anonymous volunteer. The environment created is so surreal and effective that it immediately sparks layers of satisfaction with its various symbolisms. In this sense, the movie is much more akin to poetry and it shares poetry’s value as an investigation of human experience through emotion rather than reason.

Continuing on a similar tone, Hijiki – written and directed by 2LDK’s Yukihiko Tsutsumi – shows a criminal holding a family hostage in their own living room. The film’s title derives from the Japanese name given to a dried seaweed dish, which is what the family appear to be eating before the gunman stepped in. The family consists of three females living in a rundown apartment and each share their hardships in life with the gunman, accusing him of throwing his life away when he is in a much better position. Due to its downbeat nature, Hijiki is the most thought provoking of the short films and the way that the characters speak make the film look more like a play. Its abstract style outlines how society reflects on a particular “brand” of people but is also filled with unpredictable and bleak humour, giving the film an edgy mood.

Isao Yukisada, director of Go, has written and directed the penultimate film, Justice. The setting takes place during a school lesson, where an English speaking teacher slowly strolls up and down the classroom. However one particular student appears to be preoccupied by eyeing up school girls during their gym session and marks down every time a girl snaps her panties, as well as their colour. This short maintains a light hearted tone thanks to its quick editing, jumpy music and embarrassingly entertaining situation. The expression on the boy’s face is priceless, as he admires those lovely thighs and colourful panties but it also symbolises the film’s title and the point that the director is trying to make.

Jam Films

To finish off an entertaining compilation, Shunji Iwai has written and directed Arita, a cute story about a girl who has constantly been drawing a little long nosed creature ever since she was a child. Naming her Arita, she notices that her friend appears in her drawings, school work and even her exam papers. In addition, Arita appears to move around her books as if it had a mind of its own and sometimes, the girl is unsure how Arita appeared in the first place. Starring one of my favourite Japanese actresses, Ryoko Hirosue, the film primarily consists of simple images and shots lasting a few seconds. Iwai directed Swallowtail & Butterfly and Love Letter, so is fully aware on how to capture the audience’s affection. The tale is beautifully rendered with stunning misty imagery and Hirosue’s narration is simply a joy to listen to. Arita is a triumphant way to end this series of Japanese short films.

Jam Films is an astonishing collection, sparking so many feelings and exploring various environments. The shorts themselves last on average 15 minutes, however in that time period the directors manage to emphasise their topics instantly, yet in a manner that is neither forced nor rushed. The acting from everyone is amazing, each with their own unique charm that blends in seamlessly with the mood of the film. This collection is essential for those who admire the short but sweet and also possesses significant re-watch value, with subtle points that are frequently picked up on multiple viewings.

Video
Jam Films is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It will be difficult to award a specific mark for the video transfer due to the quality varying over the seven films. The majority of the films, in particular Messenger and Cold Sleep present an absolutely stunning image transfer. The sharpness and attention to detail is pristine and the print itself is relatively clean and free of dirt. Only during certain instances can miniscule amounts of grain and speckles be detected if you squint hard enough but overall, the image transfer is a blessing to the DVD medium.

Jam Films

The quality for Justice and Arita is slightly softer but that is because of the type of camera used. Both have been matted, more so on Arita that makes it look like a dreamy home video. These are artistic movies so I believe that the presented image maintains the look that the directors were trying to achieve. The brightness and saturation levels are consistent and do not obscure the print in any shape or form. The blacks are strong and deep, as well as the shadow details which are kept immaculate. Finally there are no digital misrepresentations such as edge enhancement, pixilation or noise reduction. The transfer is decent at worst and outstanding at best, definitely the best that these films will ever look.

Audio
On various online Japanese retailers, they specify that Jam Films either has a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Well I can confirm that it is neither, as the disc only features a Japanese Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack. The track is sufficient considering that most of the films are extensively dialogue based. Music has a predominant role to play in providing the tone of the films, so as expected the score plays elegantly over the various lines of dialogue. The only film that really makes use of any surround moments is The Messenger, which also utilizes nice bass levels. The encoding itself is very perceptible; there are no audio dips, distortion or any such damages present on the soundtrack.

Extras
The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer for Jam Films. The trailer itself is quite stylishly edited, with an upbeat tempo score playing over the background. There is narration from a computerised woman’s voice, making it sound ultra futuristic. The menus are all in English and Japanese so it is very easy to navigate the disc. Furthermore the end credits are in English, allowing easy access to information about the cast and crew. All the shorts can be played as one long movie or there is the option to select one particular film, similar to a chapter selection.

Jam Films

The English subtitles are virtually perfect; I had no issues with any of the spelling, grammar or punctuation. It seems that overall, the disc is very “English friendly,” and serves as a good introduction piece for those wishing to indulge in Japanese cinema. A few featurettes would have been nice though, however as with 99% of Asian DVDs, I doubt they would have had English subtitles anyway.

Overall
Jam Films offers a vivid spectrum of Japanese cinema with its various issues and styles that take a walk with your emotions. Each director experiments with their own unique mood that moulds into a well crafted experience full of metaphors and symbolisms. Certain films are uplifting and flourishing whilst others maintain a disheartening tone but they all portray their own special message. Many of the shorts are also written and directed by the same person, thus indicating the potential that these creative directors have to work on more personal projects.

The imagery and music also have a vital role to play in creating the appropriate feel of the films. Therefore it is a relief to discover that the video and audio encoding do not disrupt the presentation in any way. Whilst slim on the extras front, I cannot recommend this DVD enough especially if like me, you adore rare short films. Moreover those wishing to investigate the joys of Japanese cinema would certainly benefit from viewing these shorts. Jam Films is exceptionally entertaining from start to finish and each film improves with multiple viewings. Roll on Jam Films 2.

You can purchase Jam Films for ¥4800 from CD Japan.


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