One of Asia's largest short film festivals will celebrate its 25th anniversary next month in Tokyo, with this year's theme exploring diverse stories within the context of a world emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.
Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia will showcase 270 works by seasoned international filmmakers and newcomers across 20 programs, with some productions already available for online viewing and others to be screened in theaters around the capital from next month.
The international program will feature films such as veteran British director Sally Potter's drama "Look at Me," starring Spanish actor Javier Bardem and American comedian Chris Rock.
Meanwhile, this year's festival theme, "Unlock," will showcase a series of films depicting life after COVID-19 in its "Unlock -- Jumping into a New World Program," as seen in a documentary created by four young female filmmakers from Japan and South Korea addressing gender inequality and social pressures in their respective countries.
Also featured is a work by Ukrainian director Natalka Vorozhbit called "Are You Ok?" that tells the story of a young mother and her daughter who flee Ukraine following Russia's invasion.
The films were selected from 5,122 submissions in 120 different countries and regions. Accredited by the Academy Awards, the festival has often acted as a springboard for directors to achieve international recognition.
Technology is another theme of the festival, which takes place in hybrid form with both online and in-person screenings, while audiences can vote for films to win awards using NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
Tech is also seen in the featured film "Hysteresis," an animated short by German director Robert Seidel included in the "Unlock" program, that explores the impact of artificial intelligence on art.
This year will additionally mark the first time in three years that overseas filmmakers will visit Japan for the event following the pandemic outbreak.
"I hope this festival can be a reunion for everyone who has supported us from our opening year," said Japanese actor Tetsuya Bessho, who founded the festival in 1999.
Among the filmmaking heavyweights and star-studded casts, "Teleporting" is a documentary featured in the program by four young directors. Nana Noka and Chifumi Tanzawa are both 24 and from Japan, while Nam Arum and Kwon Ohyeon, both 27, hail from South Korea.
Having met online during the pandemic, the four could not meet in person due to travel restrictions, but they discovered they had similar experiences as women growing up and now identify as feminists.
For the film, they used augmented reality-generated avatars to "teleport" themselves into each other's cell phone cameras and appear as though they were in each other's countries.
In an interview with Kyodo News, the four explained that they decided to use the avatars to cover their faces and assumed pseudonyms to protect their identities.
One point the filmmakers wanted to drive home was the phenomenon of non-consensual photography of women in both their countries.
Noka, who goes by Mia in the film, relates how she became fearful of uploading photos of her face to social media after she discovered in high school that one of her male classmates was saving all her pictures to his iPad to share with other boys.
Nam, who has assumed the name, Kitty, similarly tells of how a man used a spy camera to take photos of women at her university and that many women in South Korea have learned to plug holes in public bathrooms with toilet paper for fear of hidden cameras.
The women talk about a host of women's issues, as well as negative perceptions of feminism in both countries.
"The bad image of feminism has taken on a life of its own," Tanzawa, who plays Emma, said. Like her fellow group members, Tanzawa is excited for the film to screen for the first time in Japan but also feels anxiety as she has been a victim of online harassment for her views.
Kwon, who plays Tommy, said, "in Korean society, there are so many conservative views of gender, asking girls to be calm, pretty, and sit quietly."
"This kind of representation needs to change," she said.
Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia will screen at several cinemas in Tokyo from June 6-26. Some films are already available to watch online until July 9.