The History of Nippon Connection

The origins of the Japanese film festival Nippon Connection can be traced back to the year 1999. Marion Klomfass and Holger Ziegler, both majoring in film studies, fans of Asian culture, and with experience in the fields of cinema and festivals, had the idea of showing several Japanese films at Frankfurt University. At the end of the nineties, films from Japan were a rarity in German cinemas and television. Starting as a students' initiative, a few like-minded friends joined in and put themselves to the task of organizing a film festival. In October 1999, Marion Klomfass visited the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival for the first time. There she could watch current Japanese films and use the opportunity for networking. Months of planning culminated in the first Nippon Connection Festival taking place in April 2000, presenting 13 films over four days. From the start, the founders followed the idea of embedding the films in an accompanying cultural program as a special treat for the audience. 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 hiatus, during which Marion Klomfass finished her studies, and the “Nippon Connection” non-profit registered association was founded, plans for the second Nippon Connection festival were drawn up. The festival was to be held annually from now on, growing from year to year: 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 program 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 had another premiere: for the first time, a jury chose the winner of the “Nippon Digital Award” (today: “Nippon Visions Jury Award”), which supports new-coming talents. The “Nippon Digital” section became “Nippon Visions” in 2011, while 2012 had the first program especially for children (“Nippon Kids”). From 2012 to 2014, the “VGF Nippon in Motion Award” was given out to the best 12-second film. In 2013, the festival was relocated from the Students' House to Künstlerhaus Mousonturm and Theater Willy Praml in der Naxoshalle. The first “Nippon Honor Award” went to actor Tadanobu ASANO in 2015, while the next awardees were director Kiyoshi KUROSAWA in 2016 and actor/director Koji YAKUSHO in 2017.

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 worldwide. Most of the films presented here are shown as German, European or even world premieres. The festival has helped discover many new directors like Nobuhiro YAMASHITA, Toshiaki TOYODA and Yuki TANADA , among others, and has accompanied them in the course of their careers.

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, Koji WAKAMATSU, Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Shinsuke SATO, Yukihiko TSUTSUMI, Toshiaki TOYODA, Nobuhiro YAMASHITA, Ryuichi HIROKI, Kazuyoshi KUMAKIRI, Sakura ANDO, Masaharu TAKE, Miwa NISHIKAWA, Akira OGATA, Tomorowo TAGUCHI, Koji YAMAMURA or Yuki TANADA.

The academic engagement with Japanese film also plays an important role at the festival. Close cooperations have been established with the Institute for Japanese Studies and the Institute for Film Studies at Frankfurt University. Many international experts of Japanese film give insight into the field of Japanese film production through their lectures and panel discussions. In 2007 and 2015, the festival hosted the Kinema Club Conference, one of the most important academic events devoted to Japanese film and media.

The success of Nippon Connection has not remained unnoticed in Japan. In 2004, the festival organizers were invited to a symposium in Tokyo on the impact of Japanese cinema abroad by the Japanese Ministry of Culture (Bunkacho). Further invitations to panel discussions, film festivals, and official representative visits of the City of Frankfurt and the Land of Hesse to Yokohama and Tokyo followed. In 2013, festival director Marion Klomfass received the Certificate of Commendation of the Japanese Foreign Ministry (Gaimu Daijin Hyosho) for her merits in the field of Japanese-German cultural exchange.

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 billboard advertising and have already won a number of prestigious German creative and design awards. The festival campaigns have been designed by Kai Bergmann from 2000 to 2009, by Alex Lis and Katja Baumann from 2010 to 2014, and by Il-Ho Jung since 2015.

Apart from the festival program, the organization team has worked on a number of other projects as well, for instance music CDs. The festival organizers recorded various sounds of the Tokyo metro system during one of their visits. They gave the recordings to German musicians who were inspired to create an imaginary soundtrack for the Japanese mega-city. The CD, entitled “Nippon Connection – The Tokyo Metro Soundtrack”, was released in 2003. In April 2005, the CD set “Nippon Connection Exchanging Tracks” followed. Two traditional Japanese pieces of music were given to 28 renowned remix musicians from Europe and the United States. They took the atmosphere of the music as a starting point for their own soundtracks. As part of the “Exchanging Tracks” project, these compositions were then given to Japanese directors who created accompanying short films.

Even with its current scale, the Nippon Connection Festival and many other projects of the Nippon Connection association are still mostly organized on a voluntary, non-profit basis. The organizing team consists of about 70 persons representing freshmen students and people from all lines of occupation, 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. Since 2013, the festival has successfully launched crowdfunding campaigns every year. Although the Nippon Connection team has already had some many wonderful experiences, the enthusiasm is still strong, and many ideas are still waiting to be realized.