16th Osaka Asian Film Festival – Awards 2021

We present the list of winners of the 16th Osaka Asian Film Festival which took place on cinemas from March 5th – 14th. The online part of the festival will last until March 20th.

About the festival:
The Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) aims to facilitate human resources development and exchange, to invigorate the Osaka economy, and to increase the city’s appeal, through providing opportunities to watch excellent Asian films, supporting filmmaking in Osaka and attracting filmmakers from Asian countries and regions to Osaka.

Marking its 16th edition this year, OAFF, under programming director TERUOKA Sozo (暉峻創三), will again select high-quality Asian films. The Competition section, which receives increased recognition every year, will again select films previously unreleased in Japan. The Indie Forum section, special programs and other sections will also feature a wide variety of excellent Asian films.

Grand Prix – Best Picture Award

Ito by Yokohama Satoko – Japan | 2021 – 116 minutes

SOMA Ito (KOMAI Ren) is a high school student in Hirosaki City, Aomori. Her hobby is playing the Tsugaru shamisen, a three-string instrument that is popular in her home prefecture. She picked up the skill from her late mother, a talented shamisen player in her own right. While Ito can express herself through music, talking is a little harder due to shyness, which, when coupled with her strong Tsuguru dialect, makes it hard for her to communicate. And so she has few friends but, despite this, she has a strong inner spirit and she makes a big decision to start a part-time job at a maid cafe, much to the concern of her father Koichi (TOYOKAWA Etsushi). With every meeting that Ito has, her confidence begins to grow.

This is the latest film from YOKOHAMA Satoko, an award-winning director known for her work “The Actor” (2012). Both she and lead actress KOMAI Ren hail from Aomori Prefecture, the setting of the film. The story comes from a work by popular novelist KOSHIGAYA Osamu and its title, “Itomichi” 糸道(いとみち)comes from the scar which is formed in the nail of a Shamisen player from the string. (OAFF 2021)

Jury Comments: This year, because all of the jurors were Japanese, we debated whether it was appropriate to award the Grand Prix to a film by a Japanese director. However, we appreciated the fact that 13 years after her debut, director YOKOHAMA Satoko returned to her hometown of Aomori and created a character with depth. Even though this is a standard fiction drama, this work is full of charm without being stereotypical. KOMAI Ren (駒井蓮), who played the heroine, provided a unique beat that moved us.

Most Promising Talent Award

Choi Jin-young for The Slug – South Korea | 2020 – 99 minutes

If you could meet your childhood self, what would you tell them?

This is a tantalising question that a woman named Chun-hee (KANG Jin-a) gets to answer. She lives a modest life in her maternal grandparent’s house, the place she lived from her teenage years when her parents died. It is a place filled with many unhappy memories as her uncle, aunt, and cousins made her feel unwelcome, something which only added to the shame she felt from excessive sweating. As an adult, she puts on a brave front and tries to get along with others and when she meets an equally shy person, she finally finds someone who can love her back. However, one day, she is struck by lightning and after that moment, she can see her teenage self (PARK Hye-jin) popping in and out of the house. Their surreal house-share offers Chun-hee a chance to deal with her lingering traumas.

“The Slug” is CHOI Jin-young’s debut feature and it is a confident one for she has made a delicate film with a light atmosphere and quirky tone that conceals a profound and moving story of self-acceptance that avoids all of the cliches and strikes the heart honest and true. [Jason Maher | OAFF 2021]

Jury Comments: We couldn’t help but root for the heroine of the film, from the moment the girl, caught in an unexpected situation, finds a dried-up slug in her small attic room and picks it up. Director CHOI Jin-young portrays the girl’s loneliness in a way that can only be done in the form of a movie.

ABC TV Award

Sister Sister by Kathy Uyen – Vietnam | 2019 – 104 minutes

THIEN Kim (THANH Hang) is the impossibly rich and glamorous host of a popular radio show called “Midnight Confessions” where she acts as an agony aunt to anonymous callers who profess their deepest, darkest sins in the hope of redemption. One regular caller is a 20-year-old pregnant woman who goes by the name “Em Gai” (CHI Pu) who relates a tale of woe each night. One fateful night, while Em Gai is on air, she’s attacked by her drunken landlord and Kim races to her aid. After saving her life, Kim offers the woman sanctuary in her mansion, a move which is opposed by Kim’s husband HUY (LANH Thanh) who is suspicious of this outsider but it’s all for naught because Kim feels sorry for the girl. Now that Em Gai has her hooks in their home, she does her best to seduce her rescuer…

“Sister, Sister” starts off as a glossy power fantasy that may have you rolling your eyes as it riffs off many a bunny boiler film but the absurdly OTT melodrama and whiplash plot twists will leave you gasping for breath and gripping your seat as the story rockets to its conclusion with a lot of style. [Jason MAHER – OAFF 2021]

Comments: As a suspense movie, it is absolutely riveting. It has a carefully crafted script and good tempo. We were impressed by how they managed to place so many events inside a film of its scale.

Yakushi Pearl Award

Lily Lee for Born to be Human (Lily Ni) – Taiwan | 2021 – 105 minutes

YANG Shi-Nan (Lily LEE) is a 14-year-old boy who undergoes a metamorphosis without realising what is going on. It begins on a normal school day when he gets stomach cramps. After rushing to the toilet he notices that his urine is turning bloody red. Taken to a doctor he is diagnosed with “Disorders of Sex Development,” or intersex. Without consulting him, Shi-Nan’s parents decide to accept “sex reassignment surgery”, turning Shi-Nan into a female and changing her name to YANG Shi-Lan. The family moves to a new city to start a new life and it all seems to be going well as Shi-Lan blends in and even makes friends. It seems like the butterfly is about to break out of its chrysalis but can YANG Shi-Lan truly embrace her transformation?

This is the question that the film dangles in front of audiences as it shows them Shi-Lan’s feminisation whilst also keeping them aware of society’s discrimination and ultimately playing on the idea where a person’s identity is taken out of their hands and the psychological effects it can have on them. [Jason Maher – OAFF 2021]

Comments: The incredible reality of the main character, played by Lily LEE, gave “Born to be Human” an overwhelming persuasiveness as it took on a subject that is not easy to tackle.


B/B by Nakahama – Japan | 2020 – 77 minutes

In the world of the film, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were cancelled due to corruption by the minister in charge and there has been an attempted spraying of poisonous gas by a new religion. In the shadow of these two incidents, the murder of a convenience store owner has drawn a limited response from police and press but a suspect in the killing has been found: high school girl Sanagi (Karen), a loner who had an exchange with the victim’s young son Shiro (NAKAZAWA Koshin). The axis of the film is her questioning by a psychiatrist and a detective but it won’t be easy since she is suffering from multiple personality disorder and her personalities each emerge at random to recollect what happened from their respective perspectives.

“B/B” is an absolutely fun experience that is bold in its super-stylised visuals and acting, all riffing on cult anime and live action shows, whilst also packed with a million references to all sorts of pop-culture ephemera. Behind this dazzling facade, a really dark story is smuggled in that will leave viewers stunned. [Jason MAHER – OAFF 2021]

Comments: While the decision was not easy in consideration of the overall high quality of selections within the Indie Forum section, our team is very happy to present the JAPAN CUTS Award to “B/B” in recognition of its audacious visual style and confident direction, which viscerally communicate youthful revulsion at an unjust world. We are energized and excited by this debut from director NAKAHAMA Kosuke and star Karen, and eagerly look forward to seeing more from these young talents.

JAPAN CUTS Award Special Mention

Among Four of Us by Nakamura Mayu – Japan | 2020 – 20 minutes

The film shows us the night-time meeting of Koji (KUSANO Kota), Fusae (URABE Fusako), and Nanae (Nahana), three former friends who belonged to the same drama club in college. They fell out of contact and drifted along in the 20 years since then but, spiked by a feeling of loneliness brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, they get in contact again after Tokyo’s state of emergency has been lifted. Cracking open beers, the catch-ups and confessions soon come pouring out as they relate how their lives have gone but the presence of a fourth person named Sayoko looms heavily on the four. Even though she isn’t there, her presence is felt by the infatuation others still hold over her and how it has influenced their lives… [Jason MAHER – OAFF 2021]

Comments: We thought the film was a very ingenious approach to the subject of isolation brought on by the pandemic that made the most of its restrictions and impressively utilized the power of film language to visually express its themes along with some really remarkable screen performances.

Housen Short Film Award

In-young’s Camcorder by Oh Jeong-seon – South Korea | 2020 – 23 minutes

In-young (IM Yeong-ju) and Jeong-eun (JOO Ga-young) are two besties who are going camping for their last winter trip together just before their senior year in college. In anticipation of the trip, In-young has dug out the camcorder she used as a child to keep a record of her life, and she uses it on the trip to shoot the things that she likes such as the landscape and, maybe unconsciously, Jeong-eun whose appearance on the viewfinder is near constant. In-young’s behaviour catches the attention of Jeong-eun…

This subtle work from OH Jeong-seon captures ephemeral emotions of love and loss as two friends on the verge of big changes feel the boundaries of their relationship. [Jason Maher – OAFF 2021]

Jury Comments: The film features carefully built up emotional intonations, the flow of time along with its changes, and a sense of confrontation and distance with others. Due to the presence of the camcorder, the worldview of the film is enhanced, and the whole story shows talent and kindness. The last scene leaves a lingering sense of immense potential, not only for this work but also for the director and what they will be involved in the future.

Audience Award

Ito by Yokohama Satoko – Japan | 2021 – 116 minutes

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