I begin my series of Why We Watch interviews with Jason M. from Genkinahito.
Jason, a blogger since 2009, tells of how he first get a taste for foreign films (spoiler: a heaping helping of Hong Kong Jackie Chan films and the diverse programming on UK television gave him the bug for global cinema) and what, in his opinion, are the best foreign film distribution companies at the moment. Jason also gives his opinion on the ethics of fan subtitled movies and whether he thinks his studying of the Japanese language has helped him understand Japanese films on a deeper level.
Editor’s note: I’ll be referring to Jason by his blog’s name during the interview as I want to promote his great blog.
Lost in the Miso: How did you discover Japanese Cinema? Was there any particular film(s) that really got you into the genre?
Genkinahito: I have always watched foreign films. I started with Hong Kong films because they were easily available in the UK, titles from Jackie Chan when he was making things like Police Story. UK television was pretty good when I was growing up because foreign films would be screened regularly and there would be seasons dedicated to France and Japan. I think I spent most of the 90’s watching anything about Japan and China that the BBC and Channel 4 would screen, even if I was a little too young to be viewing such things. Cable channels also helped.
LITM: What made you decide to start a blog in the first place? How long have you been doing it for?
Genkinahito: I have been blogging since December 2009. I decided to start doing it because I love writing and I love writing about Japan, films and anime. I blog in order to raise awareness of great films and find other fans who I can start a conversation of sorts with.
LITM: I’ve noticed you put content up on Genkinahito on an almost daily basis. Given that you live in the UK, how are you able to gain so much access to Japanese films?
Genkinahito: I follow Japanese film websites and I purchase a lot of films – there are a lot still waiting to be watched, never mind reviewed! I have been buying films since… the 90’s and I started importing quite a lot in the 2000’s.
LITM: From what I’ve seen, there are a lot more UK distributors of Asian films than here in the US. Does that sound like an accurate assessment?
Genkinahito: There are a lot of film distributors in the UK and a lot of cinemas willing to show foreign films that these distributors release. I think there’s a deep interest in East Asian culture that stretches back quite a long time. It’s the other way around with anime. The UK anime industry is pretty dependent on bigger markets like the US and EU for its more up to date anime releases.
LITM: Now that we’re on the topic of foreign film distribution, what are some of your favorite distribution companies that put out Japanese or Asian films?
Genkinahito: There are quite a few distributors who release Japanese films in the UK but I’ll focus on three who have had the biggest impact on me:
First and foremost is Third Window Films who specialize in the more indie and more contemporary titles that get released in Japan. These titles tend not to be picked up by major distributors because they lack easy labels like Extreme Cinema or Art House. As a result of their aim to get titles that are slightly off the beaten track, we get a diverse and rich mixture of dramas, thrillers and comedies which give a better insight into Japan than any other film label offers.
The second label I love is Eureka with its Masters of Cinema label. These guys specialize in classics of World Cinema from the 30’s to the 2000’s but they have a large catalogue of films from Japan. They are essential for providing a catalogue of titles from titans like Akira Kurosawa and Kon Ichikawa to Japanese New Wave directors like Shohei Imamura. I think a direct American equivalent would be Criterion (who I have bought from).
The third label is Palisades Tartan. These chaps used to be a British outfit who specialized in releasing Japanese titles like Audition, Ringu, Chaos, and Battle Royale in the early 2000’s. The best thing about this label was the fact that they took their titles into cinemas across the nation and I was fortunate to watch a lot of them. Then they ran into financial difficulty and got bought by an American company and have never really been the same again – fewer Asian titles and no cinema releases that I can remember.
There are other labels that exist who provide the works of Takeshi Kitano and Ozu but the above three have been the most important for me.
LITM: There is a growing culture of “fansubbing,” have you ever used fan sub sites to view Japanese movies? (Editor’s note: “fansubbing” is an act where fans of a film or television show create subtitles on their own or with a group of similarly interested fans, and release the newly subtitled work online where they can be viewed by foreign fans).
Genkinahito: Sometimes. I always try to buy films but sometimes Japanese films don’t get released in the west and the import barrier – cost, production – can be too high. Sometimes these films don’t even get a DVD release in Japan at all. If you pursue the works of a director passionately then you buy as much as you can legitimately. If there are no alternatives then you turn to whatever source you can find. I don’t advocate fan subs but I won’t denounce them either.
LITM: Have their ever been any movies or television shows you’ve been dying to see but you just can’t find any access to them? This has certainly been a problem I’ve run into multiple times since becoming a fan of foreign film.
Genkinahito: Older V-cinema releases from Kiyoshi Kurosawa from the 90’s. I love, love, love Kurosawa but getting those films is tough.
LITM: I understand that you’re in the midst of learning the Japanese language. Are you at a proficient enough level where you can watch a movie in Japanese and figure out what is going on?
Genkinahito: Sometimes. My reading skills are at a decent enough level to allow me to read signs/text and gain a better contextual understanding. I can understand snatches of dialogue but I really need to work on my listening skills. I wish I were better but most of the time I rely on subtitles.
LITM: How would you describe the Japanese and Asian film fan community on the blogosphere? Are we helpful to one another or are we all pretty isolated from one another?
Genkinahito: The Japanese and Asian film fan community are… I’m tempted to say close-knit but I’m not sure. Bigger blogs operate things like the Korean blogathon and whatnot but I get the feeling a lot of us are too busy running our own sites to continuously keep in contact, but when we do stay in contact, we are very helpful. That said, when contact is established and kept up it is fantastic. There are few people in my day to day life who love films/anime as much as fellow cinebloggers/anibloggers. Blogging has brought me into contact with them in real life and it has been like meeting a new set of friends.
LITM: Have you ever experienced the thrill of the hunt when looking for some of the more obscure Japanese movies? I’ve experienced this quite a few times and it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s not always an easy task but it’s so enjoyable when you are finally able to obtain a film you’ve been sniffing around for.
What’s the farthest length you’ve gone to see content for your blog? For myself, I’m actually planning on purchasing a Region 2 DVD player as Third Windows releases a lot of Japanese films in the UK that I’d like to watch.
Genkinahito: It’s never about content for the blog, just enjoyment of films and thinking about them. I love them and I am fortunate that I have a multi-region DVD player so I import from everywhere and anywhere (including the US) but the most extreme example of me going somewhere to get content for my blog was attending the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival. This will sound silly to someone living in a huge country like the US but I live 2 hours away by train from London and don’t visit it often because of the distance and money involved but I loved the films enough and the idea of attending a film festival to make the journey and stay in a hotel. It was one of the best decisions I ever made because now I travel to London quite a few times a year.
I applaud your efforts on getting Third Window Films releases! You should look into programming DVD players to become multi-region.
LITM: Final question, Jason. What have you found works best for your site? Is it news items, features or reviews? What generates the most viewership for Genkinahito? What is personally the most fulfilling (reviews or news)? I’m quite impressed with the variety of content your site provides.
Genkinahito: Thanks for the compliment. Sometimes I think it’s too scatter shot and I look at other bloggers and wish I could be as insightful. Anime provides the most viewership, especially when images are involved.
As far as what I find fulfilling and content. I have a job (essential for purchasing films!) and I study Japanese and I want to watch films and anime so time can be short. The easiest thing to write are trailer posts and they are a life saver when I have so little time but I really like going in depth with reviews and features. I’m happy writing full stop but I prefer writing reviews, especially ones like Poetry, Tetsuo Iron Man and Attack on Titan. I love thinking about the films and anime and putting my thoughts online to see what people make of them. While news is important it never quite satisfies me unless its something directly useful to an audience such as giving details of festivals/forthcoming releases or its about something I am passionate about.
I, Michael from Lost in the Miso, would like to thank Jason M. for taking the time to discuss his passion for film.
Coming up in Part 3 of Why We Watch, I speak to Monkey Fist, Mountain Monkey and Topo Sanchez from the blog and film society S.C.U.M. Cinema to get their thoughts on why they blog about foreign and independent films! Stay tuned!