The cast from Japanese indie film Love and Other Cults. Photo: FEFF

This year’s Far East Film Festival is buzzing not only with a large selection of Japanese films but also with more than 50 special guests from directors to market representatives. They are mingling in the theater, proudly showing off their films and greeting their fans and counterparts.

After so many consecutive victories for Japanese films at the festival, Udine is a hot spot for cinema from this northeast Asian nation, with many works being shown for the first time outside Japan, and some for the first time anywhere.

There is another cause for the growth in the Japanese presence here. As digital innovation has cut filming costs, the film industry in the country has expanded dramatically. Japan is an exporting country and Udine has more than once proved to be the place where the Japanese film industry reaches out to foreign audiences.

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FEFF has evolved to become the perfect platform. It attracts journalists and moviegoers from around the world, and draws publicity. It is an opportunity to present to the world not only mainstream films but also those that would not normally be considered for awards in Japan.

Thirteen Japanese films are being screened at FEFF, making Japan the biggest single source of works shown. The offering is exceptional for its variety, ranging from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender drama Close-Knit to the dark crime-comedy Hamon: Yakuza Boogie, with all sorts in between, providing something for everyone.

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“We aren’t just programming for cinephiles. It’s for a general audience,” says festival programmer Mark Schilling.

On the program are mainstream ones such as Hirugao: Love Affairs in the Afternoon, and indie releases like Love and Other Cults, which have helped build the reputation of Japan as a paradise for independent cinema.

Despite the variety in the selection, Japanese films share some similarities.

What makes some of the films stand out is their distance from manga’s influence. Most characters in this year’s selection are naturalistic, rather than caricatures, and as serious as they are comical.

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The star of Death Note, Matsuyama Kenichi, says that in playing his role in the chess drama Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow, he abided by the rule that less is more rather than adding layers to a character based on manga.

The Japanese contribution to this year’s festival is a strong one. It will soon be clear if Japan brings home an award for the 15th year in a row. Win or lose, these 13 movies will certainly be appreciated.

Polina Zelmanova is this week attending the FEFF Campus, which is being sponsored by Asia Times

Click here for the FEFF 2017 site

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