If you find yourself beginning to itch from the absence of film festivals, make a date with the National Museum of Singapore for the next two weeks. From Jan 13-27, Witness to War: Memories and Screens will showcase a special selection of war films, in conjunction with the museum’s ongoing exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942.
Programmed by the Asian Film Archive, the film series presents 14 films, one a day for the duration of the “festival”, that document the experience of World War Two and its aftermath in the Pacific. It’s an exciting line-up of Hollywood films, regional cult favorites, and even a recently discovered, restored Singaporean film. Admission is gloriously free with registration here; if you can’t decide what films to check out, no worries, we already did that for you.
Spirit of the Overseas Chinese (Jan 18, 8pm)
Watch because: It was recently discovered again in film archives
Not unlike The Lost Episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Spirit of the Overseas Chinese was previously thought to be lost forever—until it was recently unearthed in the vaults of the China Film Archive. It is with gritted teeth that we admit this is a much more significant discovery than The Sponge Who Could Fly; for starters, the 1946 film is a completely local product, and a rare document of Singapore cinema. But best of all, it was directed by pioneering female Chinese filmmaker Wan Hoi-ling, who directed films in the ‘40s for the Shaw Brothers. In Mandarin and Hokkien, the film tells the story of affluent Chinese immigrants having to make decisions that threaten to shake their cushy lives, in the lead-up to the war coming to Malaya.
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (Jan 19, 8pm)
Photo credit: The Festival Agency
Watch because: David Bowie
Why else? The late and great British stud stars as a spirited major who becomes an object of desire for a Japanese captain, at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1942 Java. Could this be the film that sparked Bowie’s infamous sexual intrigue? Perhaps, going by the singer-songwriter’s confusing timeline of coming out in 1972, and then retracting that statement in 1983, the same year Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence was released. Regardless, director Nagisa Oshima’s drama film is a tale of trying relationships intricately woven against a backdrop of war, and you’ll thank yourself for catching it on the big screen instead of downloading it from Pirate Bay.
Three Godless Years (Jan 21, 5pm)
Watch because: You’ll want to see how this love triangle resolves
Premiering in Singapore for the first time, this 1976 film by Maria O’Hara boasts a rather perplexing premise—amid World War Two chaos, a school teacher is assaulted by a Philippine-born Japanese soldier, becomes pregnant, and proceeds to fall in love with him. They then have to deal with fleeing the Philippines, as the Japanese start to withdraw; all this when her actual lover was called away to war at the start of the film, too. But suspend your judgment and catch it for yourself; there must be a reason it’s considered one of the greatest Filipino films of all time.
Momotaro, Sacred Sailors (Jan 26, 8pm)
Photo credit: Shociku Company
Watch because: It’s an animated film told from Japan’s side (awkward)
War depicted as a cartoon might seem like an odd choice, but rest assured Japan’s first-ever feature-length animated film doesn’t discount any realities of war. Released in 1945, the film was made for children, and produced with the backing of the Ministry of the Navy of Japan in the last days of World War Two. Awkwardly, the film was intended as a means of boosting morale amongst the locals, for when it started to appear that Japan would not emerge victorious. Japanese folk character Momotaro (or “Peach Boy”) and his merry gang of animals (representing soldiers) invade an island; there’s even an amusing representation of Singapore’s surrender in 1942.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Jan 27, 8pm)
Watch because: It’s classic French film noir, starring a bi-racial romance
We were struck breathless by the first 10sec of the trailer alone. This debut feature by French film director Alain Resnais centers on the romance between an actress who comes to Hiroshima to star in a film, and a Japanese man she meets. But it’s not just any old love story; Resnais fuses fiction and documentary in the film (and throws in a non-linear plot), to paint a compelling visual story about the complexity of Hiroshima. Regarded as a classic of French cinema, the film first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959, and went on to bolster the French New Wave movement. Now’s your chance to catch it restored in brilliant 4K digital.