At most film festivals, the reparatory cinema takes a backseat to the world premieres, fresh new voices, and latest ventures from acclaimed modern auteurs. As someone who, embarrassingly, gets caught up in those things as well, I can admit that it is truly tough to find time to fit it all into compressed, sleep-deprived schedules. With festivals like Fantasia, however, maybe the revived classics should be a greater part of the conversation. This year, Fantasia is programming a tribute to the works of Shuji Iwai, a long-time festival favourite. Included in this retrospective is April Story, made and released in 1998.
As if meant to be an ode to the works of Yasujiro Ozu, Iwai’s ode to shyness and self-discovery features innumerable “pillow-shots,” which are long shots set at floor level high that use the mis-en-scene and composition to detail a character’s emotional state. Ozu used this shooting style throughout many of his films, which were soothing, slices of life. Iwai replicates this style in April Story, which follows the painfully shy Uzuki Nireno (Takado Matsu) as she moves to the university of her choice. Parcelled out in backstory throughout the film, Uzuki’s reasoning for choosing said university is her love of a local boy from her hometown.
For myself, there are plenty of moments that brought back memories of my own experiences leaving home for school. The feelings of being in a new empty space, making new friends and missing old ones are all deeply felt within Iwai’s film.
Iwai is known for building films that explore the inner worlds of his female characters. What he ends up with feels extremely real, which usually is the marker of greatness. That’s what we’re looking for when we come to film festivals, greatness, no matter if it is new or old.