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I haven't attended many (make that ANY) film festivals this year. Not even the annual Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) in April which I would gladly loose sleep over. I was scheduled to make my trip to Chongqing and Chengdu during that period which was delayed due to the unrest near the Tibetan borders. Perhaps also cause nothing in the film line up really jumped at me. I'm starting to feel that now with more country specific Film Festivals, SIFF might be loosing it's appeal on me.

So far, it's been a rather dull year at the movies for me. Thus far, besides Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire"; nothing really excited me till Pixar's "Up" came along. I enjoyed J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek", but I'm a Trek fan... so it doesn't quite count and the mega block busters just didn't quite cut it for me.

The Japanese Film Festival 2009 end of last month presented an audacious selection of some of the finest in Japanese horror, mystery and supernatural. The compact lineup were designed to intrigue, shock and arrest. The films were suppose to present Japanese supremacy in the spine-chilling genres.

It was a short festival with paid screenings over just one weekend, which happened to be the Alpha weekend. But I was so intrigued with the film selection that I had to catch something.

I picked Sion Sono's "Strange Circus" with Wendy, a disturbing tale about incest, imprisonment, secret transsexuality and mixed identities. The audiences were brought through a beautifully shot cinematic ride with a twist in how the director led us to believe in the reversal of roles between the adolescent Mitsuko and her mother. But as much as the film started out well, the over the top psychotic ending left me feeling the film could have more impact if it preserved more realism.

Another film which I really wanted to catch at the festival was Akio Jissoji's "Rampo Noir", a film consisting of 4 stories by Japanese author, TarĊ Hirai or better known Edogawa Rampo (a transliteration of Edgar Allan Poe). I manged to get a copy of the film which saw me and Wendy continuing our Jap Horror Fest a week after. The 4 stories were "Mars Canal", "Mirror Hell", "The Caterpillar" and "Crawling Bugs". Of which, I felt "Mirror Hell" had the most beautifully shot scenes, "The Caterpillar" being critically, the favourite story and "Crawling Bugs" the most artistic. Everything thing about the film was ridiculous, strange and leaves you going WTH! We figured we would have left totally dumb founded if we had caught the film at the National Museum cinema. We had to compare this to Takashi Miike's "Gozu", which in our opinion, holds the top spot for most DUH film.

It was a double bill night, so we also caught Sion Sono's most successful film to date, "Suicide Circle" a disturbing thriller about Japan's incredibly high suicide rate. The film became a major commercial hit in Japan and was also played in many film festivals winning numerous awards. "Suicide Circle's" opening scene, shocking and extreme, made it famous around the independent horror fanbase, becoming a cult movie, and as a result it was the first Sion Sono movie to get an official DVD release in the West. This made him a popular director in the J-Horror English-speaking community.

The film had a lot of potential. Underneath all the suicide mayhem, blood and gore; I really wanted an in depth understanding of the life of those who decided to take their lives, those who cared enough about them and those who decided otherwise. Even the detective uncovering the case could have more meat. I loved how the child J-Pop group - Dessert, does song and dance nos. which provided insight into the situation or character. Their innocence is creepy in it's own way. A little more character development would have taken the film a long long way.

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