Royston Tan is the Singapore film industry's rebel with a cause, leading the cinema's challenge of the government's strict censorship policy.
The young film director recently attended the Sintok Singapore Film Festival Tokyo (Sintok 2012), which was held from May 12-20 in Tokyo's Roppongi.
Tan, 35, went after Singapore's Board of Film Censors, telling the audience that censorship is a foolish act that destroys film classics.
At Sintok 2012, 12 films by Tan, including his controversial “15,” which was initially banned in Singapore, were shown.
"When I was in a difficult situation in Singapore, Japan provided me a shelter," Tan said. "That is why Japan is so special to me; also Korea. "
Tan’s grandparents immigrated to Singapore from Fujian province in southern China. His father was a member of the mob.
Tan himself was constantly an underachiever in school. To meet credit requirements for his high school diploma, he enrolled in a film-making course. That class opened his eyes to the world of film.
Tan knew all about troubled youths, lives filled with strife. In 2003 he released “15” to international acclaim. The film offered insight into an adolescent underground world filled with drugs and violence, days of misadventures and gloom. But in Singapore, it was deemed a “dangerous film” that would prompt violent behavior in youths. After initially banning it, Singapore censors forced Tan to make 27 cuts to "15." In response, Tan made a short film in 2004 called “CUT,” ridiculing the censorship board.
"After 'CUT,' people noticed how silly the censorship is," Tan says. "In the film, I praised their (censorship board's) achievement of destroying masterpieces. "
Tan’s special relationship with Japan began in 2001 when his work was shown in a short film festival. Tan was also invited by an artist support organization to spend a couple of months in snowy Hokkaido from December 2004.
Now, Tan is intent on recording historic townscapes that are quickly disappearing, making way for development.
"I cannot lie to myself," the director said. "Someone should be honest about his opinion. And my role is to say what I feel."
"Now even a minister comes to talk to me. He asks me about my opinion on a project and I say, 'No, no, no.' If you lose your own dialect, you will lose your roots."
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