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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — Japan-based Malaysian filmmaker Lim Kah Wai is passionate about bringing people of different nationalities into a new world where they can integrate and understand different cultures and religions.
After nine years in the film industry, he is determined to continue making movies that explore the different cultural aspects and lives of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Europeans, as well as the tensions among them.
“My films are about the communication problems and tensions among the Chinese and Japanese and European people,” he told Bernama in an interview, here, recently.
He was in Kuala Lumpur to attend the Japanese Film Festival last month, organised by the Japan Foundation, where two of his Japanese films, New World and Fly Me to Minami were screened.
Japan, he stressed, was now at a turning point in its transformational journey from a relatively conservative nation to one that is more open and able to integrate with other countries.
The Kuala Lumpur-born Lim, 45, said significant changes have taken place in Japan as it had to grapple with China’s rising economic power and the effects of the post-bubble economic crisis in the late 1990s due to the collapse in asset prices and sluggish economic growth.
“Japan is now very interesting and that is why I want to make a trilogy. My two previous films (New World and Fly Me to Minami) depict the cultural conflicts of the Japanese, Korean and Chinese people with the economic changes in their region," he said.
His third film in the trilogy, which is expected to be completed by next year, will explore the relationship between the Japanese society and East Asian countries over the last five years since he finished filming New World and Fly me to Minami in 2013.
These two films feature a Chinese, Japanese and Korean cast and were shot in Osaka, Hong Kong and Seoul.
“When the Japanese first watched Fly me to Minami and New World, they were shocked and sad because, back in 2012, they thought China was still a poor country,” he said.
New World highlighted China's burgeoning economy and advent of the “nouveau riche” or the new rich, and showed the contrast between the slum area of Shinsekai in Osaka (Japan) and the affluent city of Beijing (China).
The movie dwells on the experiences of a Chinese tourist who discovers a Japan she never knew before, on the backdrop of the history of Osaka’s new world or what is known as Shinsekai in Japanese, which was developed in 1912 with its futuristic Tsutenkaku tower modelled after Paris’s Eiffel Tower.
Unfortunately, since its heyday in the 1920s, the Shinsekai area has lost its charm and today it is more of a slum where the homeless and jobless wander in the park.
Asia and the Balkans
Lim, who has been working and living in Japan for over 25 years and had quit his job as an engineer in 2004 to delve into filmmaking, has so far produced seven films connecting people in Asia and Europe.
Last year, he made a film titled, No Where Now Here, that was based on the Turkish community in Europe's Balkan region.
This film received attention in Japan when it was screened at the Osaka Film Festival in March this year.
He has also just completed shooting another film in the Balkan region, titled Somewhen Somewhere, which is about the cultural conflicts and differences between Asia and the Balkan region in terms of the values of life and thinking.
“As the (Balkan) region opens up to tourism after the war, it has become very interesting with many tourists now visiting the countries here,” said Lim.
Describing himself as a late bloomer in the film industry, Lim said when he quit his job as an engineer in 2004 to study filmmaking in Beijing, he was already 31 years old.
“I made my first film when I was 37. As I started my career late in the film industry, I just have to continue making films,” he said.
Lim worked as an assistant production manager in a Chinese-Japanese film project before he started making his own film in 2009.
“I love films. Before I quit my job as an engineer, I watched a lot of films in the cinemas in Japan.
“There is this opportunity to watch a different variety of films including smaller budget, art-house films in Japan, which you can't find in Malaysia as Malaysian cinema is dominated by Hollywood and Hong Kong films,” he said.
He also found filmmaking more interesting than engineering as it dealt with human beings, unlike engineering which, he said, only involved dealing with computers.
Lim has his own production company in Japan and is open to opportunities to work anywhere in the world, including Malaysia.
On filmmaking in Japan, Lim said although the cost of living in Japan used to be the highest in the world some 25 years back, living costs were getting cheaper now and that one could still produce films at a relatively lower cost compared to other countries, with a medium budget film costing about US$500,000 (RM2.07 million).
“However, it is difficult to get refunds as the industry is very competitive with almost 1,000 Japanese films released every year,” he said, adding that the industry was dominated by animation films that were getting very popular.
The third largest in the world after India and Hollywood, Japan's film industry can be difficult and challenging with no assurance of a stable income for filmmakers, he said.
He said for independent or small budget films like his, the market was very small and competitive and to get attention, a producer would need to allocate a budget for promotion.
“Everyday, there are still some people watching my films through the Internet streaming platform. This is how independent, small budget films survive,” he added. — Bernama