Interview with New York Japan CineFest Co-Founder Hiroshi Kono

The third annual New York Japan CineFest takes place on Thursday, June 12 at Asia Society with six films that show the diversity of Japanese cinema today as well as the interest in Japanese themes. JapanCulture•NYC sat down with music producer Hiroshi Kono of Mar Creation, one of the three founders of NYJCF, to discuss the festival and the message NYJCF conveys to New Yorkers.

JapanCulture•NYC: You’re a music producer, so why are you organizing a film festival?

Hiroshi Kono: I’ve been a film lover since I was a kid. Mar Creation was originally started as a record label, and I’ve been expanding the services – distribution, event coordinating, now video production. Back in 2008, when I saw a charity dance event, it made me realize, wow, music is not the only way to express or convey the arts. I started expanding more with not only music, but dance, video. Now I do lectures and workshops for all kinds of Japanese culture – well, not just Japanese culture, but worldwide.

JC•NYC: How was NYJCF born?

HK: I met Yasu [Suzuki], another co-founder, in 2008. We’re from the same area, Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. He’s an actor and he had a film, and we started talking about doing something together. Kosuke [Furukawa], the third co-founder, joined us. He and Yasu met at a film festival. That was in 2010. In 2011, 3/11 happened, and we started thinking, ‘Let’s do something for Japan.’ Of course, sending money or going there to help them is one way. Showing what we can do in film is another way we can help lift the spirit.

Hiroshi Kono, New York Japan CineFest, Asia Society, NYC, film festivals, Japanese cinema, documentary, animation, Yasu Suzuki, Kosuke Furukawa
Hiroshi Kono of New York Japan CineFest

The disaster made us rethink what we really want to do, what we want to convey through this film festival. Before 3.11 we were trying to do something interesting, fun, entertaining. But now we have a strong message. We’d like to help people through art and film.

In 2012 our first festival at Asia Society was in June, and it was packed. We’re very, very happy that we’ve gone this far because running a film festival is not easy. We want to keep the quality.

JC•NYC: How did you select the films in this year’s festival?

HK: Every year we research and talk to people in the film industry – anyone, really – to find films, and this year we found six. We don’t ask for submissions, and we don’t have categories. [Musical] artists are not good at promoting themselves, so you have to go to clubs and see performances. It’s the same with film. I’m always meeting people and telling them that I’m running a film festival and ask them if they know of any good films or if they know filmmakers. Even if they aren’t filmmakers themselves – say, they work at a bank – they know someone. We have to be a voice for those filmmakers who need to talk to the world.

In the process of finding good quality films, it’s very interesting that we found them in basically five categories: drama, comedy, documentary, animation, and stop-motion animation. It was just an accident.

The three of us must agree, but the three of us are totally different. One is an actor, one a film director, and I’m a music producer. We have totally different tastes. Yasu has a theater background, and he wants something entertaining. Kosuke is a director, and he really cares about the quality of the images and the audio. Even if the story is good, if image-wise it’s not so good, he says, ‘No, this one’s not for the big screen.’ I’m always focusing on what the film wants to say.

JC•NYC: What is your audience?

HK: Since this is held at the Asia Society, a lot of members come. Maybe half of the members are American and half are Japanese. It’s a split audience. I think it’s split with men and women, too . . . Of course, I’m Japanese, so I know the wonderful aspects of Japan and Japanese culture. I just want people to know – American people – you can stop in and learn something [from the films in the festival].

JC•NYC: I mentioned earlier that you’re a music producer, but you do so much more than that. What are your other activities?

HK: I started writing about artists because they’re too busy or they’re not good at writing . . . I go out and see shows, watch films, meet people, and write about music. I write in Japanese for Yomitime every other week and do post-concert reviews for Shukan NY Seikatsu. I’ve done interviews of bands for Burrn, a Japanese heavy metal magazine. And now I have a new online media site called VAW, Velvet Air Waves [still under construction]. I find the artist, book the artist, and write about the show.

I’m also interested in Asian culture. Japan and China, Japan and Korea fight against each other because of history, but artists, they really don’t care about that. Well, they care about history and each other’s cultures. But the younger generation is more open. That’s why I want to connect people from these countries through music, through art. My dream is too bit, so I have to start small.

The New York Japan CineFest is Thursday, June 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Asia Society. To see trailers of the full lineup and to purchase tickets, please visit Asia Society’s website.