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Japanese monk movie to be streamed online for free to US audience amid pandemic

A page informing viewers about the free online streaming of the movie "I am a Monk" is seen in this screenshot taken from Asian Pop-up Cinema's official website.
Missei Shirakawa, a monk from Eifuku-ji temple who wrote an essay based on his personal experiences, is seen in the city of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, on Dec. 18, 2017. (Mainichi/Nobuto Matsukura)

IMABARI, Ehime -- "I am a Monk," a movie based on an essay about the personal experiences of a monk at Eifuku-ji temple in this western Japan city, will be streamed online for American audiences as part of a Chicago-based Asian film festival.

Asian Pop-up Cinema canceled events taking place at movie theaters due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but is conducting free online streaming of past works that won the audience award to show the underlying strength of films. "I am a Monk" will be streamed from 2 p.m. CDT on May 30, but for U.S. viewers only.

The annul film festival has been hosted in spring and autumn since 2015 to inform audiences about new movies from various Asian countries. "I am a Monk" was screened with English subtitles in the spring of 2016 along with 10 other films including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and a joint production between Japan, China and South Korea.

"I am a Monk," produced in 2015 by director Yukinori Makabe, was the only film that won the audience choice award. It focuses on the journey of a man who became a monk after losing his grandfather at age 24, and becomes directly linked to people's lives. The protagonist is played by Japanese actor Atsushi Ito.

The audience award was also later given to Japanese movies including "Survival Family," "One Cut of the Dead" and "Fly me to the Saitama."

The spring program for Asian Pop-up Cinema began in March this year, but after three movies were screened, it was canceled. Coronavirus deaths in the United States have topped 100,000 and about 4,800 people have died in Illinois, in the Midwest.

Festival organizers decided to stream online past works for Americans to enjoy at home on weekends between May 10 and 31.

In a bid to create a film festival-like atmosphere online, organizers on Mondays introduce the movies it will stream on the following weekend, and viewers must join a guest list to receive a password needed to watch the film at a specific time.

Executive Director Sophia Wong Boccio told the Mainichi Shimbun via email, "'I am a Monk' is one of the works that fans feel most attached to and continue to talk about. Its strong storyline, natural performance and amazing cast will certainly move the audience."

Missei Shirakawa, who wrote the essay based on his actual experiences, said, "I want the audience to laugh over and over at the 'monk comedy.'" In a video message to the audience he stated, "It's important not to hold down painful emotions and sadness, and express them. I would also like people to feel the nature in Japan's countryside."

Boccio added, "We are living in unprecedented times. People will surely understand the compassion in Shirakawa's message."

(Japanese original by Nobuto Matsukura, Imabari Local Bureau)

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