Miracles shine at the Edinburgh Film Festival

Yesterday was ‘Day 5’ of the Edinburgh Film Festival and I’m starting to wilt. It’s not the lack of sleep, the beer, or the endless trekking from one venue to another (although they do add wear and tear), but it’s the heat.

Watching a packed screening on a hot day where only ten minutes earlier the cinema had just emptied itself of another full house is a recipe for fainting. I’m frustrated too because I’m not quite finding the time to write in-between screenings or events, and the heat induced lethargy isn’t helping either. I’m also not motivated because of the profound levels of crushing laziness that’s imprinted biologically into my dna after millions of years of evolution. What rotten luck.

But I am lucky at some things and yesterday was definitely the highlight of the festival for me so far in picking a couple of great films to watch as well as stumbling into a couple of decent drink receptions by chance, always the best way to arrive at anything – accidentally and stumbling.

First event of the day was Mai Mai Miracle, an utterly magical and spellbinding Japanese feature animation from writer-director Sunao Katabuchi. Despite its traditional and simple 2D animation techniques (from Shochiku Studios, reminiscent partly of Studio Ghibli’s work), I haven’t seen a film where almost nothing seems to be happening and yet it’s so utterly hypnotic and compelling.

Set in a quiet farmland village in rural post war Japan, the story follows a summer in the life of Shinko, a young girl perhaps seven or eight years old. She becomes the first in her class to gradually form a close friendship with the more alienated upper class Kiika who’s recently arrived from the city, keeps to herself and stands out like a sore thumb.

Together they wander the fields, show each other their homes and form a small gang of friends whose daily focal point is the small pond they create by damming up a stream. The girls daydream about connecting (through their own version of the spirit world) with an ancient young princess who may have lived on these lands.

On the surface it’s a simple tale of childhood innocence and a gradual awakening to the more adult world around them which in child’s eyes seems a long way off in time and distance. But underneath the magical daily play and daydreams is an undercurrent of loneliness, isolation and deep rooted pain that eventually boils to the surface when an unexpected tragic event affects everyone in the village.

There are two very memorable sequences – one in which Kiika, Shinko and her younger sister unwittingly get very drunk on chocolate whisky bottles and a sequence toward the end when they spend a night in a field under a star studded sky and Milky Way.

Mai Mai Miracle is a gentle breeze of a film and the best depiction of childhood I’ve seen yet – capturing expertly the minutiae of the way in which children meet and interact, how they view the world, how the creative imagination develops and how they cope with tragedy and loss. Employing some clever visual transformations between characters and locations in time and aided and abetted by a subtle orchestral score it brought a tear to my eye. It is suitable for adults and children alike although it does contain one sequence that might frighten very young children.

The rest of my day was spent attending a Scottish Screen Reception on the sunny rooftop terrace of the festival’s Delegate Centre followed by the world première (and inevitably another drinks reception – what a chore) of Morag McKinnon’s much anticipated debut feature Donkeys, which will be reviewed in my next blog. Stay tuned.

Mai Mai Miracle shows again at 3pm on Friday 25th June at the Cameo.

It's Sod's law that as soon as the EIFF comes along Edinburgh has it's hottest week of the year so far.

We were making jokes about how the videotheque, a big, dark room, down in the bowels of the delegate centre, should be clothing optional. All those banks of television screens... little ventilation. It's just so hot, you need to strip off.

While it seems like a crime to spend these precious sunny days inside a cinema, the sun barely goes down at this time of year (coming over the Summer Solstice). There's daylight to waste. Something like 14 hours of daylight.

That must have been Filmhouse 1 that you were referring to with the "packed screening". Apparently, the air conditioning was down. Cineworld 7 was fine for The Dry Land last night, although it wasn't packed. Another hotter day ahead...