The History of Nippon Connection
The origins of Japanese film festival Nippon Connection can be dated back to the year 1999. Marion Klomfass and Holger Ziegler, both film students, fans of Asian culture, and with experience in the fields of cinema and festivals, had the idea of showing some Japanese films at Frankfurt University. At the end of the nineties, films from Japan were a rarity in German cinemas and television. The programme was supposed to be provided for by the archive of 16mm films of the Institute for Japanese Culture in Cologne. Starting as a students’ initiative,they gathered a few like-minded friends and put themselves to the task of organizing a film festival.
It soon became apparent that the 16mm films could not meet the aspired standards, so the organizers began to look out for possibilities to obtain 35mm films. Weeks of planning culminated in the first Nippon Connection Festival in April 2000, already a full-grown film festival with the basic concept of an accompanying cultural programme to present the films in a wider context and as a special treat for the audience that might at first be reluctant to watch obscure Japanese films with English subtitles. The reaction exceeded all expectations: instead of the modest number of 1,500 expected visitors, more than 10,000 film fans confirmed the overall concept of Nippon Connection and showed great interest in current Japanese cinema and Japanese culture.
This demand motivated the organizing team to continue the festival. After a one-year break and the founding of the non-profit registered association “Nippon Connection”, plans for the second Nippon Connection festival were drawn up. The festival grew from year to year, and the basic idea was enlarged: 2002 saw the introduction of a special forum for digital productions (“Nippon Digital”) as well as the first cooperation with Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in organizing an exhibition; in 2003, Nippon Connection for the first time presented a retrospective (“Nippon Retro”) in cooperation with the cinema of the German Film Museum and also cooperated with the Literaturhaus Frankfurt; after the fourth festival in 2004, part of the programme went on tour to Leipzig and Barcelona. In 2005, this tour was further expanded, and the Nippon Cinema Award was presented for the first time. For its tenth anniversary, Nippon Connection will again have a premiere: a jury will choose the winner of the Nippon Digital Award, which will support new-coming talents.
By now the audience numbers have reached 16,000, with many visitors coming to Frankfurt from all around the world to see the latest Japanese films. Nippon Connection has become the biggest platform for current Japanese cinema outside of Japan. Most of the films presented here are shown as German, European or even world premieres. The festival has helped discover many new directors and has accompanied them in the course of their work, among others Nobuhiro YAMASHITA, Toshiaki TOYODA and Yuki TANADA.
One important aspect of the festival is the exchange between filmmakers and the audience. Every year, many directors, actors and producers have presented their films personally and communicated with the audience. The festival has already welcomed such protagonists of the Japanese film industry like Kaori MOMOI, Toshiaki TOYODA, Koji WAKAMATSU, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Akira OGATA, Go HIRASAWA, Haruhiko ARAI, Makoto SHINOZAKI, Minoru KAWASAKI, Nobuhiro YAMASHITA, Ryuichi HIROKI, Shinsuke SATO and Yuki TANADA. In 2009, there even was a direct exchange between Germany and Japan via live video conference, when visitors in Frankfurt could talk to directors in Japan. Nippon Connection strives to continue this concept of transcending limits and barriers.
The success of Nippon Connection has not remained unnoticed in Japan. In 2004, the organizers were invited to a symposium in Tokyo on the impact of Japanese cinema abroad by the Japanese Ministry of Culture (bunkacho). At the festival itself, the academic approach to Japanese film also plays an important role. Many experts give the audience deep insights into Japanese filmmaking in their lectures. In 2007, Nippon Connection hosted the Kinema Club Conference for the first time in Europe, the most important academic event for films and other media from Japan.
It has been a tradition of Nippon Connection to present some eye-catchers not only on the silver screen: since the start of the festival back in 2000, the corporate design stands out as one of the trademarks of Nippon Connection. The posters in various tones of pink, from subtle to flashy, are indeed something special in the masses of hoarding advertisement and have already won a number of prestigious German creative and design awards. Apart from the film programme, the festival team works on various other projects, e.g. music compilations on CD. The organizers recorded sounds of the Tokyo metro system and gave them to German musicians who were inspired to create an imaginary soundtrack of the Japanese metropolis. This CD was released in 2003 by Ckp under the title “Nippon Connection - The Tokyo Metro Soundtrack“. In April 2005, the second CD, “Nippon Connection Exchanging Tracks“, was released by “das modular”. Two traditional pieces of Japanese music were given to 28 renowned remixers from Europe and the USA. Their personal reinterpretations were in turn presented to Japanese directors, who produced accompanying short films.
Even with its current scale, Nippon Connection Festival and many other projects of Nippon Connection association are still organized on a voluntary, non-profit basis. The organizing team consists of about 50 persons representing freshmen students as well as Ph.D. students and professionals, trying to find a balance between the requirements of a professionally organized film festival and their own possibilities. The small festival budget is made up mainly of a variety of public funds and private sponsors and has to be eked out every year. Although the Nippon Connection team works to the limits, the enthusiasm is still strong and many ideas are still waiting to be realized.