The shining star of losers everywhere

19 minutes

9at38

18 minutes

The clinic

16 minutes

Out of the blue

8 minutes

Soft awareness

13 minutes

Glory in defeat: how Japan fell in love with a racehorse who couldn’t win

In 2003, spirits were low in the remote, seaside city of Kochi, Japan, which had been hit particularly hard by a nationwide, decade-long economic downturn. The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere tells the story of the tenacious but winless Kochi-based racehorse Haru Urara (meaning ‘glorious spring’) who became a peculiar ray of hope in Japan during a period in which few people felt as if they were winning. Despite never finishing first in over 100 career races, the lovable, Hello Kitty hood-wearing horse still managed to save her local racetrack, inspire a struggling city and become a national symbol for trying your hardest in the face of adversity and defeat. A heartening underdog story splendidly told, this short documentary by the US-based director Mickey Duzyj was a film festival favourite in 2016, screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the SXSW Film Festival and the Hot Docs Festival, where it won Best Short Documentary.

Director: Mickey Duzyj

Producer: Mona Panchal, Yuka Uchida

Website: The All-Nighter Room

The violinist staging a concert of unity at the border between North and South Korea

The South Korean violinist Hyung Joon Won has held a singular – and perhaps quixotic – dream for the past seven years: a joint concert by North and South Korean musicians at the world’s most contentious border. At 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separates the two countries at the 38th parallel. On this narrow strip, the threat of all-out war hangs heavy – and anyone with a violin case or a film camera gets short shrift. The South Korean-born filmmaker Catherine Kyungeun Lee follows Hyung Joon as his plan for a show of peace at the border teeters between success and collapse, at great personal cost to him. Filmed in 2015, her documentary traces the confluence between fraught geopolitics and all-too-human struggles on the peninsula.

Lee is now directing two documentaries in East Africa. One tells the story of a child-soldier who became a Harvard graduate and activist who was jailed in South Sudan, and the other follows the woman in charge of realising Somalia’s first democratic election in 50 years, despite seemingly insurmountable opposition.

Director: Catherine Kyungeun Lee

Producers: TR Boyce Jr, Ciara Lacy, Sarah S Kim

Website: 9at38

Basic healthcare and clean needles is all in a day’s work at a roving addiction clinic

Marc Lasher works as an addiction medicine specialist but, between his regular appointments, he oversees a clean-needle exchange on the streets of Fresno County in California, out the back of a modified school bus. Lasher’s decades-long dedication to public health is all the more impressive considering that his programme was illegal in the state until 2012. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, his approach – addressing drug addiction as a matter of public health rather than criminality – has only recently come into favour in much of the United States. In this acclaimed documentary, the US filmmaker Elivia Shaw follows Lasher and a team of young volunteers as they provide people coping with addiction with clean needles, as well as basic medical care and referrals to specialists and detox centres. The result is both a moving testament to Lasher and his team’s selfless work and a damning indictment of a healthcare system in which unaddressed health issues, costs and the physical and emotional tolls of poverty compound each other relentlessly.

Director: Elivia Shaw

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

What’s it like to chat with an AI that mimics you? Uncanny conversations with Replika

Replika is a chatbot that was launched in 2017 with the aim of offering users emotional support – or, as the company’s advertising copy puts it, becoming their ‘AI friend’. To give users a personalised experience, the deep learning bot gathers information about conversation partners by asking them questions, adapts to their conversational style and, over time, attempts to mimic them. Beyond companionship, Replika’s creators believe that the technology could eventually serve as a conversational stand-in for deceased loves ones.

In Soft Awareness, Anastasia Sif Karkazis, a Danish film student and co-director of the film, engages in a series of conversations with Replika, drifting between a series of loosely connected subjects – including art, dreams and identity. Throughout, the exchanges seem to teeter between meaningful and unintelligible, offering a window on Karkazis’s inner world, how Replika ‘understands’ her, and the many hazy areas in between. Beneath the surface of these uncanny exchanges, larger questions about privacy and the contours of intimacy between humans and AI slowly emerge.

Via Labocine

Directors: Cecilie Flyger, Olivia Mai Scheibye

Co-director: Anastasia Sif Karkazis

Website: Copenhagen School of Film and Photography

Glory in defeat: how Japan fell in love with a racehorse who couldn’t win

In 2003, spirits were low in the remote, seaside city of Kochi, Japan, which had been hit particularly hard by a nationwide, decade-long economic downturn. The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere tells the story of the tenacious but winless Kochi-based racehorse Haru Urara (meaning ‘glorious spring’) who became a peculiar ray of hope in Japan during a period in which few people felt as if they were winning. Despite never finishing first in over 100 career races, the lovable, Hello Kitty hood-wearing horse still managed to save her local racetrack, inspire a struggling city and become a national symbol for trying your hardest in the face of adversity and defeat. A heartening underdog story splendidly told, this short documentary by the US-based director Mickey Duzyj was a film festival favourite in 2016, screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the SXSW Film Festival and the Hot Docs Festival, where it won Best Short Documentary.

Director: Mickey Duzyj

Producer: Mona Panchal, Yuka Uchida

Website: The All-Nighter Room

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Albert Einstein's original passport. Photo by Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty

Essay/
Race and ethnicity
Identifying Einstein

For Albert Einstein, being Jewish and German were not questions of identity but rather mutable matters of identification

Michael D Gordin

Saturday night in Borgarfjörður eystri, Iceland, 2007. In 2018, 70 per cent of births in the country were outside of marriage. Photo by Jonas Bendicksen/Magnum

Essay/
Love and friendship
Is marriage over?

Marriage is practised in every society yet is in steep decline globally. Is this it for longterm intimate relationships?

Manvir Singh