Coventry, renowned for its Cathedral and Lady Godiva (the person, not the chocolate brand) is also home to a fascinating, odd and distinctly filmic retail market which actress Fuse Eri, one of the many guests at the East Winds Film Festival, enthused about on her visit to the city. She also helped explain the differences in acting techniques demanded by stage, television and cinema in one of the many Q & A sessions at the festival. Presented by Coventry University East Asian Film Society and Third Window films, East Winds is an intimate and friendly festival, which showcases contemporary films from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.

Three films by Satoshi Miki were screening: road movie without a car, Adrift in Tokyo (2007), as well as the UK premiere of In The Pool (2005), Miki’s first feature, and also the immensely enjoyable Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005). Miki himself, along with his regular actress/spouse Fuse Eri provided an immensely enjoyable Q&A session.

Also appearing was the prolific director Herman Yau, responsible for such cult classics as The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome as well as the Troublesome Night series. His two films screening at East Winds shared similar themes – politics and gender. Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (2011) is a biographical tale, following the story of Qiu Jin, a revolutionary who was appalled by the treatment of women in China and who, after having to marry, decides to leave her family become seriously involved with politics, eventually joining the anti-Qing Empire rebellion. She is now considered to be one of China’s heroines. The drama True Women For Sale (2008) follows the lives of two women struggling to survive in modern day Hong Kong. Chung is involved in the Hong Kong sex industry, Lin-Fa already has one child and is pregnant with twins but has just lost her husband and is struggling to survive. The film tells their story in a humanitarian way that is never patronising and also tries to address issues of Hong Kong citizenship post-1997 without being overtly critical, especially when considering their relationship issues. A combination of drama and tragedy, mixed with short incidents of humour, True Women For Sale is political film-making at its finest without being either maudlin or, conversely, overtly uplifting.

Slightly different political and social issues were raised in South Korean film The Yellow Sea (Hong Jing-na 2011), a compelling film that centres predominantly on Ku-nam, a taxi-driver trying to locate his wife, who is now living in South Korea, by departing from Yanbian (the area between the North, Russia and China) in order to repay a debt. The problem is that he must commit murder in order to gain the cash, supplying the victim’s thumb as proof of completing the job. A variety of issues from the authorities who detest refugees, a lack of geographical knowledge and a plethora of gangsters to contend with ensure that he’s likely to face a deeply traumatic, potentially life-threatening excursion. The Yellow Sea is constantly engaging and the scenes of graphic violence, while occasionally shocking, are vital to the narrative.

In contrast, Mitsuko Delivers (2011) by director Yuya Ishii, who made the wonderfully comic Sawako Decides (2010), is an engaging and gentle drama about Mitsuko, a wilful and determined young woman who’s having a bit of hard time. She’s nine months pregnant and had just returned to Japan from California, without the baby’s father. Unable to return to her parents, she rediscovers the community where she lived for a part of her childhood and joins her former neighbours who all rally round to help their elderly landlady – and each other. Enjoyable and sweet, Mitsuko Delivers is a gentle comedy with great characterisation, that touches on social issues but doesn’t dwell on them.

Other films in the eclectic line-up included the vampires and angels short Bloodtraffick (2011), which felt very much like a teaser for a feature film and the hugely enjoyable Starry, Starry Night (2011), a Taiwanese fantasy coming of age drama.

A UK film festival with a difference and one that hopefully marks the beginning of a wider series of events, Coventry East Asian Film Society and Third Window Films presented the East Winds Film Festival from February 11th-13th. A number of films from East Asia (Japan, Korea, China) were on offer – some brand new, some relatively recent – as well as Q&A sessions with some of the filmmakers, all set in the friendly environment of Warwick University’s Arts Centre Cinema.

The opening film was Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions (2010), a dark drama about a teacher searching for those responsible for the murder of her daughter – she believes that her students are somehow involved (a full review will be published on Kamera.co.uk). Nakashima’s astonishing and internationally well-received Memories of Matsuko (2006) was also showing. Telling the tale of a student learning about the life of a recently deceased aunt he never knew he had, it’s both stunning and stylish, a visual and aural assault on the senses that manages to be as emotional as it is witty. Its distinctive soundtrack won a major film award in Japan and composer Gabriele Roberto was on hand to discuss the creative process and his varied input on the film. Also present at the festival was director Gen Takahashi who discussed his 2006 film Confessions of a Dog. It was projected on the big screen – as nature intended – something that has proved to be a rare occurrence in its native Japan where it has remained virtually unseen for many years. Takahashi was very open in explaining the reasons for the film’s poor reception in his home country. The running time (over three hours) reduced advertising revenue for many cinemas but it was the film’s subject matter that caused the most commotion. Confessions of a Dog is about the widespread and apparently commonplace nature of police corruption in Japan and heavily linked with this is the collusion of the media. The film focuses on an honest police officer who becomes increasingly corrupt as he is promoted through the ranks; something that’s not only endorsed by his superiors but actively encouraged. The subject matter is politically embarrassing and, although a work of fiction, is portrayed in a very naturalistic, almost documentary, style. Controversial perhaps, but thoroughly absorbing.

The festival was notably mixed in its programming. In stark contrast to Confessions of a Dog, the 2001 Korean film Kick The Moon by Kim Sang-jin was an enjoyable combination of action, drama and love triangle romance that mixed school and gang differences with a smattering of social commentary and lots of comedy. Choi Ki-woong and Park Young-jun have developed different adult careers: rebel Choi has – bizarrely – become a teacher while schoolboy geek Park decided to become a gangster boss. They both seek the attention of opinionated, quirky restaurant owner Min Ju-ran, via her student brother. Kick the Moon’s combination of enthusiastic fight scenes, character revelations that jump between the multiple time spans and a love story make for an enjoyable experience – it’s not art but it is a whole lot of fun. Also showing were Cold Fish (2010), the latest film from director Sion Sono, and the UK premiere of The Message (2009), Chen Guo-fu and Gao QunShu’s World War II based mystery drama.

East Asian cinema is thriving and East Winds provided an eclectic range of films in a lively festival environment – offering splendid new releases as well a chance to see some really engaging films that audiences might have missed first time around.