Les Saisons Hanabi, the Festival Making Japanese Cinema More Accessible


WordsClémence Leleu

If you love Japanese cinema, Les saisons Hanabi, a festival launched by Eric le Bot, head of Art House, a distribution company, and in collaboration with Hanabi, a community media outlet, is right up your street.

For each season, 14 Japanese films are shown over two weeks in cinemas in France. “Our wish for the festival is to break down barriers and allow fans of animated Japanese films and ‘live’, non-fiction films alike to come together.

A theme for every season

Each season has a precise theme, such as amae for spring. This term has no real linguistic equivalent but comes from the verb amaeru and could be translated as ‘to pride oneself on the love of someone’. Summer was based around takai, the ‘other world’ that is so dear to Japan, an animistic country where nature is the kingdom of the kami, deities or spirits worshipped by followers of the Shinto faith.

The festival programme therefore covers the entire spectrum of Japanese cinema, from classics which follow Miyazaki’s pared-down approach, such as Wonderland, the Kingdom Without Rain, to more conceptual and sharp films like One Cut of the Dead, a zombie film from Shin’ichiro Ueda. “It worked pretty well in Paris, but much less well outside of the city. However we’re not interested in whether all of our films get good ratings. It’s more about opening up doors and arousing the public’s curiosity for films in other genres”, Eric le Bot explains.

Taking Japanese cinema overseas

This first edition of the festival sees films shown in 200 cinemas across France, with a strong desire to take the Japanese form of the seventh art beyond cinemas in Paris, where they already have an audience. This has been achieved, in fact, as at the start of July 2019, a few days prior to the end of the summer cycle, a total of 40,000 viewers in France (including 6,000 in Paris) had participated in the festival and seen one or several of the 14 films being shown. “There was even one person who saw all of the films”, Eric le Bot reveals with amusement and pride.

Out of these 14 films, some stand out from the rest. This is true of Wonderland, the Kingdom Without Rain, an animated film by Keiichi Hara in which a young girl visiting her antiques dealer aunt finds a magical stone and finds herself propelled into Wonderland. Another is Every Day a Good Day from Tatsushi Omori, which follows two cousins as they become initiated into the tea ceremony. And not forgetting I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, an animated film from the spring season and directed by Shinichiro Ushijima, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Yoru Sumino and which provides a touching depiction of the end of the young heroine’s life.

The first two editions of the festival, spring and summer, launched on 15th May and 12th June respectively, worked well, but the organisers are already starting to learn lessons from them. “The two editions ended up being a little too close together. We won’t launch the autumn cycle, but instead will think about implementing a more understandable programme which could run from 1st January to 31st December.”

Lovers of Japanese cinema can put the dates in their diary now.