Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Osaka Asian Film Festival as a member of the press. After covering it for several editions, it’s a pleasure to finally come here.

After arriving at the hotel in the afternoon, I met the friendly international press coordinator in the lobby and received a briefing about the festival.

A quick lunch at Tengu (waited 12 years for that, by the way) and wrote two short stories before heading up to the Umeda Burg 7 cinema for my first film at the festival:

Shingo Matsumura (second left), Aya Ayano (second right) and Aya Shinohara (right) from Love & Goodbye & Hawaii

Love & Goodbye & Hawaii (恋とさよならとハワイ)

Shingo Matsumura’s indie romantic comedy follows Isamu and Rinko, former college sweethearts who is still sharing the same apartment six months after their break-up. Rinko can’t afford to move out, and Isamu is concentrating too much on his graduate thesis to care. Everything changes when Rinko discovers a letter from Isamu’s cute classmate.

I met Matsumura as well as actresses Aya Ayano and Aya Shinohara after the screening for an interview (this will get a separate post later). Towards the end of the interview, Matsumura and I began discussing indie films in Japan and Hong Kong. Even he says that a majority of Japanese indies are dark and heavy, which is part of the reason why he’d decided to make a romantic comedy for his second feature film.

Seemingly influenced by Sundance-esque comedies, Love & Goodbye & Hawaii is a comical charmer about the emotionally hellish limbo between break-up and separation. Unfolding in a leisurely, relaxed pace (though it never drags), the film is sprinkled with humorous observations about the conflicting emotions that overrun us when we’re forced to let go of something. There’s something especially real and down-to-earth about Matsumura’s outlook on love, so it’s not surprising to learn that the writer-director actually based his story on a past relationship. The film could’ve easily been a commercial film by, say, Patrick Kong, but the stripped-down indie aesthetics of the film (It takes place in one of those anonymous-looking Tokyo neighbourhoods) actually makes the film more relatable. It reminded me of Celeste and Jesse Forever (huh, who remembers that film?) but without the glossy Hollywood sheen or Andy Samberg’s wink-wink humor.

Before the post-screening Q&A, a film festival staff came out to apologize that the festival had messed up the projection of the film (I’m used to watching Japanese indie films on Festival Scope, so I didn’t think it was a problem). Matsumura seemed distressed by it, but I told him that I enjoyed the film regardless.

After the hour-long interview with the cast and director, I headed to an 8-seat okonomiyaki restaurant nearby (Thanks, Tabelog) and enjoyed an okonomiyaki with a glass of Hibiki whisky. The owner told me to go back before I leave so I can try the yakisoba.

It’s good to be back in Japan.