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Japan Now North Sheffield: The inside scoop

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Japan Now North (JNN) is fast approaching so we sat down for a natter with Professor Kate Taylor-Jones and Dr Jennifer Coates from the School of East Asian Studies (SEAS) at the University of Sheffield to find out more about what we've got to look forward to from 17 to 21 February. Don't forget to check out the full programme here and get those tickets booked.

Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work at the university?

Jennifer: I arrived at the School of East Asian Studies in September and I'm a senior lecturer in Japanese studies. Before this job, I was at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures for 18 months and before that I worked in Japan for four years. At SEAS I do quite a bit of teaching on contemporary Japanese society, and my own research is on film, especially historical film ethnographies.

Kate: I am Professor of East Asian Cinema here in Sheffield and I'm also Head of the School of East Asian Studies. I'm one of the original Japan Now North organisers and my research, like Jen, is on film. I tend to look at cross-cultural film, how it moves between Japan, Korea, China and beyond. My particular interest is the interplay between East Asia, South East Asia and Africa which takes me travelling all over the world.

What's your involvement in Japan Now North?

Kate: Jennifer and I are co-organisers of Japan Now North together with Moe Shoji, the festival's long-standing administrator and programme assistant who we couldn't survive without! We've been programming events, inviting filmmakers, and arranging the talks and venues. We're also available online if anybody wants to ask us further questions or learn more about what's happening at Japan Now North.

Kate, you've been working on JNN since its first iteration in 2018. How has the festival developed in the last two years?

Kate: I think we've certainly got more people attending and also more people coming back, which is great because having the same faces pop up each year is really nice to see. We've become slightly more diverse, in the sense that the first year was focused on just film and literature, and then the year after we invited a series of female artists to come over, as well as filmmakers and writers. This year we have a photographer, two filmmakers and again some artists, some of whom are working in really diverse mediums. We're also using different event spaces outside the University, including Site Gallery, Kommune and the Adelphi room at the Crucible.

Jennifer: Japan Now runs down in London and they have a very particular agenda focusing largely on literature, so in Sheffield we decided that we wanted to include much more mixed media and also wanted to think more about Japan as part of East Asia more broadly.

With this in mind, we're involving our colleagues who teach about China and Korea, and thinking about the whole region as being more joined up, which is how we like to teach it as well as organise these events. For example, the films that we're screening are films that are part of East Asia-wide collaborative initiatives and most of the authors and artists who are coming to talk to us are also people who are active across East Asia as well as in Japan.

The celebration of leading female filmmakers from Japan is a key part of JNN 2020. Who will you be welcoming to the festival this year?

Jennifer: We're really excited about welcoming Chie Hayakawa, who is the director of one of the segments of the anthology film 10 Years Japan. 10 Years Japan is an anthology film made up of five short films. It follows a format that was first developed by 10 Years Hong Kong, and has now been rolled out around East Asia, so there's 10 Years Thailand and 10 Years Korea is forthcoming.

The project invited five up-and-coming filmmakers to imagine what their country would look like ten years into the future. The Japan anthology is really unique because three of the five filmmakers are female which is really unusual in the landscape of Japanese filmmaking, and also more broadly in the landscape of East Asian filmmaking, and as we can see with the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, in filmmaking generally. Being able to bring one of those female filmmakers over is really great.

He spends a lot of time creating a magical realist version of Kyoto

The other thing that's fantastic about Chie Hayakawa's work is that her short film was the first of the 10 Years Japan films to be selected to be developed into a feature length. This is really the film that's making her career, so it's a really interesting moment to talk to her as her work is being picked up and brought into this global conversation.

Kate: We've brought over a female documentarian every year since the first Japan Now North and this year we've got Naoko Nobotomo with her film I Go Gaga My Dear. It's worth noting that the Japanese title is much better than that - it's far more elegant. Please don't be put off by the English title! The film is a documentary feature and a charming and intimate portrait of ageing and dementia. We also have a specialist in Japanese ageing, Laura Haapio-Kirk, who's coming up to do the Q&A, so it'll be really interesting for people who have questions around ageing and elderly care.

Which events are you most looking forward to at this year's festival?

Jennifer: I think we're biased because we're really excited about the film aspect of the festival so for both of us it has to be Chie Hayakawa. I'm also very excited about Tomihiko Morimi. He's from Kyoto and he spends a lot of time creating a magical realist version of Kyoto. One of his most famous books is about life as a Kyoto University student so when I was working at the university, I used the book and the anime show to learn about it.

Kate: I also really enjoyed the book Killing Kanoko so I'm looking forward to meeting Hiromi Ito and hearing her talk about that but yes, I think we're both biased, it's the films for us! Several of our colleagues who are involved in the festival are literary experts so I think they will bring something really interesting to JNN because rather than just reading books, they study and research them too.

You're both involved in organising a three-day symposium called 'Imagining Our Digital Futures: the View From Japan' which will follow the festival and is thematically connected to JNN through its shared focus on Futures. What are your plans for the School of East Asian Studies beyond JNN?

Jennifer: I think digital is the direction that we are going in. The symposium, which will take place at the Showroom Cinema, is co-organised by myself, Kate and Dr Jamie Coates, and generously supported by the Japan Foundation. The way that the digital Japan symposium connects to JNN is through this theme of 'futures and the digital', which is something I think both of the film screenings in particular really address.

Chie's film is about the question of ageing in Japan and Naoko Nobutomo's film is mostly about dementia, and there is an ongoing discussion about digital aids and digital solutions to that and other future problems. It's something that the Japan anthropologist Jennifer Robertson likes to say quite often, that if you want to know what challenges are going to face the US, the UK, and various parts of the world in the future, you should look at Japan because they're often about ten years ahead in terms of these pressing considerations.

In SEAS at the moment we're looking to pivot more towards joining up East Asia and thinking about pressing future problems as global problems, while also looking through the digital lens so we can really connect with the incredible emerging work that's coming out in digital humanities and the digital society network at Sheffield.

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