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The Tokyo International film festival to support Tsunami victims

by Alex Deleon

Jūzō Itami

 The Tokyo International film festival (TIFF) which came into being in 1985 and is now in its 24th edition forms, is, along with Pusan in neighboring Korea, what might be called the "one-two punch" of leading Asian film festivals. This festival started off slowly and was only held every other year between 1985 and 1991, but finally became firmly established and has been an annual event ever since. Considering that Japan has always been the major Asian market for Hollywood and European cinema (notably French) placing a film in this festival is good business for producers from the other side of the globe. Of the fifteen films competing for the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix "Palmares" 10 are from the west and only five from non-western or asian countries.  There are three French language films (one from canada), three English language films, (from Ireland, USA, and UK), and one each fr om Sweden, Greece, Italy and Mexico.  Of the remainder, two are Chinese, One Thai, one Turkish, and there is only one Japanese entry, "The Woodsman and the Rain" (Kitsutsuki to ame). Big names are a scarcity in this lineup although Oscar winner Adrien Brody appears in the American entry, "Detachment", a tale of school teachers on Long Island, N.Y.  The English entry "Trishna", by pet festival director Michael Winterbottom, looks interesting in that it is actually set in the desert province of Rajasthan in india and stars Freida Pinto, the young Indian actress who made such an impression two years ago in Irishman Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire".  American actress Glen Close is associated with the Italian film "Cose dall'altro Mondo" (Things from another world) as co-writer, which is an item of some curiosity. Certainly an eclectic menu, if not one exactly resounding with starpower. The opening film of the fest is yet another version of "The Three Musketeers", this one by British director Paul W.S. Anderson, starring his wife, Ukrainian-American beauty, Mila Jovovich, as Milady de Winter.   Anderson is particularly popular here in Japan because several of his earlier films, the "Resident Evil" series, are based on Video games which are kind of a national obsession here -- as well as everywhere else these days among misguided youth. Jovovich starred in the first of these which led to her liason with the director.  Her big breakthrough was, of course, in Luc Besson's sci-fi mind bender, "The Fifth Element" in which she appeared memorably floating in space all but totally nude except for some strategically placed band aids. She married Besson but that didn't last long, and she has never looked back, having established parallel careers in both modelling and clothing design. Both director Andersen and La Jovo are skedded to put in a personal appearance at the festival here.
There will be no lack of Japanese and other Asian films in the other sections. A Section entitled "Japanese Eyes" will provide a comprehensive survey of newer Japanese films and a Nine film Kagawa Kyoko retrospective will feature an appetising selection of the classic films of this beloved star of the fifties and sixties.  Ms. Kagawa worked with most of the top Japanese directors of the "Golden Age", including Ozu, Mizoguchi, and Kurosawa, and will be honored at a special lifetime award ceremony at the beginning of the retro. Speaking of Mr. Kurosawa, a new documentary on the life of this best known of all Japanese directors,  "Kurosawa's Way", is on tap, made by a lady from France, Catherine Cadou.  Another younger Japanese Director, Itami Juzo, will be be remembered with a "Juzo All Night" partial-retro of his films. Itami was extremely controversial applying black hu mor to the jugular veins of various Japanese institutions such as the Japanese IRS-- (in the hilarious "Taxing Woman" films) and the Japan version of the Mafia known as the "Yakuza".  His lampooning of the underworld eventually cost him his life when was unceremoniously whacked in patented Yakuza style in 1997. (some called it suicide). That his tribute is an all-night marathon session is somehow fitting.
  Young director Masaki Kobayashi, (not to be confused with one of the late reat titans of Japanese cinema, the Masaki Kobayashi who was the author of evergreen masterpieces such as "Seppuku" and "The Human Condition" and died some 20 years ago) is here with the world premiere of a documentary film entitled "Fukushima Hula Girls" -- a special presentation  with the theme of "Overcoming the Disaster".  

Above: A group of Japanese hula girls, celebrated in cinema for saving their once-fading coal town from oblivion, have taken on an even more daunting mission: stopping Fukushima from becoming a nuclear ghost town.  These are the Japanese hula girls, who helped revive a former coal mining town as a Hawaii-themed spa, have returned to the resort as it reopened nearly seven months after it was damaged by the March 11 earthquake.  It should be noted in passing that instead of the traditional Red Carpet, the VIP  leadup to the festival entrance is a GREEN carpet --with the idea of ecology and preservation of the environmnet behind i t.    American King of the shoestring budget 'B's, Roger Corman, now eighty-something, is to be honored with a documentary bearing the title of "Corman's World -- exploits of a Hollywood Rebel".  Corman has always had a devoted cult following here in Japan, has visited frequently in the past, and is expected to make the trip this time as well -- No shortage of directorial presence during the up-coming festival week --(actually nine days, until the 30th).

The biggest section in terms of total films to be shown is called "Winds of Asia-Middle East" --and obviously foceses on East of West. The Middle East part is a little light --one would have liked to see more titles from Iran and the Arabic lands, but this is, after all East Asia -- so plenty of Chinese, Korean and Filipino titles -- more than enough to satisfy one's curiosity in that area.  A particularly fetching title is the Tagalog film (Philippines) "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank" =>The womn in the septic tank!    Lastly, India will be represented by three intriguing titles: The gigantic all India science fiction extravaganza,  ENDHIRAN (The Robot) reputed to be the most expensive film ever made in India with A-I special effects to burn -- and featuring reigning Bollywood super-beauty Aishwarya Rai opposite Tamil super-duper-star Rajnikanth in a mind blowing double role as a super hero and a mad s cientist -- I saw this one at the Los Angeles Indian film festival earlier this year and I am still shaking my head ... Has to be seen two or three times to be fully absorbed. "Bollywood:The Greatest Love story ever told" sounds like a winner, and finally a magnificent documentary on the great Indian director of the fifties, Guru Dutt, who was both in his times and ahead of them by a mile --and is often called the Indian "Orson Welles".  This was made back in 1989 by Indian film historian Nasreen Munni Kabir and remains to date one of the best studies of the works of a director in the entire cannon of biographic film annals. Not only a personal biography but simultaneously a living history of the Indian film industry of the time in that the taking heads interviewed are themselves iconic figures of the Guru Dutt era.

 There will undoubtedly be many unexpected discoveries during the upcoming nine days and quite a few other international film figures such as American documentarian Frederic Wiseman are expected to turn up.  The festival press kit says that Tokyo "aspires to be recognized as one of the four major world film festivals, in the same league with Cannes, Venice, and Berlin"  -- perhaps a bit premature at this stage of the game, but nevertheless a noble aspiration.  More to come in succeeding days.Alex, Chigasaki, Japan  

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