“During the scenes in Okinawa, why is the camera lens always dirty?” I ask Masashi Yamamoto. “Oh, yes,” he says with a laugh, “That’s because I was shooting.”
Yamamoto is a Japanese film director (but not an everyday camera operator) firmly ensconced in the world of independent cinema. His latest project, Three☆Points, was shot with DV Cam and in mainly documentary style and was the Japan Society’s centerpiece presentation of Japan Cuts 2011: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema. After the film screened last Friday to a sold-out crowd, I had the opportunity to chat with Yamamoto for a few minutes at the “1, 2…3 Points” After Party.
Three☆Points is really three films in one – hence the title – two parts documentary and one part fiction. The first two documentaries ping-ponged from the seedier side of Kyoto to the seedier side of Okinawa. The Kyoto sections focused on rappers and other nefarious characters who had either just been released from jail or were on their way to serve time.
“Did you notice in Kyoto?” Yamamoto asks my friends and me. “There is not one temple in the film!”
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is best known for its many temples and a more refined lifestyle than what Yamamoto depicts in Three☆Points. The
filmmaker is unapologetic about showcasing the gritty underbelly of Japanese society. “I love it,” he says, adding that he finds it fascinating.
The bulk of the scenes from Okinawa concentrate on Kin Town and a yakuza-run tattoo parlor. Yamamoto interviews several American GIs waiting to get inked, asking them about why they chose the military. (The answer was primarily for financial reasons.)
An Okinawan bar owner who was around during the US military occupation of Japan’s southernmost prefecture talked to Yamamoto about how soldiers behaved before leaving the island for the Vietnam war. “They spent all their money on beer and women,” he said.
During the film Yamamoto jokes that his documentary in Okinawa was turning into his first social film as he showed native Okinawans protesting the US military bases and the noisy aircraft overhead. Yet Yamamoto didn’t choose the island to promote social causes. “Okinawa is beautiful, so I shot there,” he says in response to a question from Samuel Jamier, Japan Society’s chief film programmer and curator of Japan Cuts.
Yamamoto reiterated that sentiment after I told him my mother was from the northern part of Okinawa’s main island. He showcases the island’s beauty during interviews with people who moved from the mainland, including a bare-chested bar owner who digs crabs out of the ground and a jack-of-all trades who helped build two of Okinawa’s dams and whose wife wanted “to live with nature.”
While my main interest in Three☆Points was with the stories set in Okinawa, the majority of the crowd attending the screening had something else in mind. Or, I should say someone else. The third “point” of Yamamoto’s movie is fiction and stars adult film actress Sora Aoi. Of the 32 films screened in Japan Cuts, around five feature adult film directors and actresses or bikini models and pole dancers, a sign that Japanese cinema welcomes adult film stars into relatively mainstream productions. Aoi was delightful at playing a young professional with a split personality.
Viewers were captivated, as every man in the audience trained his camera or cell phone in Aoi’s direction as she took the stage. The same happened at the after party, although security guards and a velvet rope made sure no one was too close.
It’s not every day that you’re standing in the same room as a nude model and chatting with a film director. That access is one of the many reasons why Japan Cuts is a tremendous event. If you missed the screening of Three☆Points, try to find it somewhere. It’s a must-see, even if the director never cleans his own lens.