Singaporean wins top prize at Tokyo film festival

This article is more than 12 months old

Short film directed by Chai Yee Wei is eligible to be nominated for upcoming Oscars

A wistful Singaporean short film about the loss of heritage, nostalgia and a young boy's sexual awakening bagged the top prize at an international film festival in Tokyo yesterday.

Benjamin's Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex, by Singaporean director Chai Yee Wei, won the Grand Prix award - now known as the George Lucas Award - at the Tokyo Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia 2018.

As this is one of the qualifying festivals for the Academy Awards, Benjamin's Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex will be eligible for nomination at next year's Oscars.

The 2016 Grand Prix winner, Sing, by Hungarian director Kristof Deak, went on to win Best Live Action Short Film at last year's Oscars.

Chai, who turns 42 on Thursday, also picked up the Best Short Film award in the Asia International category.


He told the audience of international film-makers that he was grateful for the win - especially as the 15-minute film has undertones that could be sensitive in Singapore - in the epiphany and sexual awakening experienced by the main character.

Chai, who is married, said he wanted to capture that "in honour" of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community in Singapore.

Benjamin's Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex beat more than 10,000 submissions from 130 countries and territories.

The five-member jury, who included director Takashi Miike and veteran actor Sonny Chiba, said its powerful message was conveyed through a "unique and fresh perspective", portraying through pastel colours the "innocence of one's childhood that everyone has".

Jury member Linda Campos Olszewski compared Chai's work to the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, Chile's A Fantastic Woman.

Chai later told reporters: "I wouldn't even dare to imagine myself being on the same league and to be referenced in that way."

His was one of three Singaporean entries in the official competition.

The other two were Wee Li Lin's Areola Borealis, about a conservative mother who tries to upstage her daughter's untraditional wedding dinner, and actress Jeanette Aw's debut directorial effort, The Last Entry. It is a personal story about a woman's last moments with her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Benjamin's Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex has a scene with homoerotic undercurrents that Chai believes will be censored for the mass Singaporean audience.

He hoped the win might sway the censors' decision.

Benjamin's Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex is Chai's first short film in more than 10 years, it cost $35,000 to make and was commissioned by StarHub Cable TV.