Film Review: Japan in Nagaland

A documentary about the anime subculture from Nagaland

Credit : PSBT India

‘Japan in Nagaland’, a 52-minute documentary, is primarily about the COSFEST (costume festival) that is held in Nagaland. Just like the events of Comic-Con, a lot of people come to this festival dressing up as one of their favorite characters, either from comics or films. The film is directed by Hemant Gaba whose debut feature film, Shuttlecock Boys has traveled through many cities and brought him much acclaim. Last year he came with another documentary called 'An Engineered Dream' which is going to be showcased in this year’s Habitat Film Festival in Delhi.

Japan in Nagaland explores the Underground Anime subculture in accordance to the other affecting cultures. Moreover, it speaks about identifying with a foreign cultural aspect to accept it as one’s own.  It follows the story of Biebe and Zulu who are the founders of Nagaland Anime Junkies, which is an Anime Enthusiast Group from Kohima (capital of Nagaland). Meanwhile, it tells the story from the perspective of other enthusiasts to give more insights behind its purpose and their sincere and noble intentions. Even the intellectual interpretations regarding the means of expression are explained by one of their members.

Being a part of the Indian subcontinent, it is considered as obvious for the youth to be influenced more from Bollywood, which is the country’s own Mumbai based entertainment industry. On the contrary, the youth from Nagaland got closer to the Anime from Japanese Culture which does not make them feel alienated. It gives them a sense of belonging seeing someone looking like them on the screen or in comics and relate to it. Even the humor that is closely associated with the particular Mongolian race resonates with them.

The zeitgeist from the Manga among other Asian films appears like a part of them. In such a case, the splashy song-and-dance numbers don’t stand a chance in front of that culture. They even give a leeway for the logical fallacies in the Korean movies. As a result, this subculture is becoming prominent now, more than ever.

The events from this documentary are around the time when the group was preparing for their second cosfest event (a costume playing festival) where the young adults and adolescents from many places visit while dressing as fictional characters. And from their enthusiasm, it is apparent how much the event means to them. One of the members speaks about the cultural importance of this event ranging from the topics of gender-fluidity to the acceptance for one’s own identity.

Another member tells how the festival helps the anxious, shy kids to embody another personality as a part of their personal growth. It gives a voice to the otherwise self-contained youth where they express through their costumes or even in the form of their own comic-book creations. Besides, the manga (comic books) are more than a source of entertainment for them. A sense of morality and justice is visible in these stories, among other lessons. Besides, the government authorities obviously seek the traditional means of entertainment; which makes their peaceful event with a non-conformist approach- a liberating act for self-identity.

The delightful music, even if generic, fits really well with the narrative. Mostly shot in natural light, the decision suits the ground approach of the work of these enthusiasts. Apart from that, the informative pieces and insights that the film shares create even more interest in this festival, without over-dramatizing it. The director Hemant Gaba succeeds with his elemental approach to give a transparent narrative of their situation. The film is benefited by the soothing pace and immerses us in their otherwise mundane reality.