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Okinawa International Movie Festival a Bundle of Laughs


By Liza Foreman



They say that laughter is the best medicine and the residents of Okinawa should know.

On Friday,the inhabitants of this tropical prefecture in the south of Japan, which has been dubbed the longevity island thanks to having the highest known number ofcentenarians worldwide, welcomed around 50 of the country’s leading comedians to launch the 4th edition of the Okinawa International Movie Festival (March 24 - 31: 2012), which is dedicated to laughter and peace.

Traversing the 300 meter long red carpet – rumored to be the longest in the world – were scores of Japan’s most amusing entertainers, some of whom pranced down the aisle like mad hatters, entertaining hundreds of screaming groupies. The event issponsored by the country’s largest agency for comedians, Yoshimoto Kogyo.

Some ofthese fans were young Japanese women who waived giant notepads in the air, hoping for an autograph from the men and women dressed in carnival-type costumes, performing silly pranks such as mimicking the security guards by plasteringthemselves to the make-shift barricades in a faux fencing off of the oh so unruly fans.

PopularJapanese comedians such as Goli and Kawata, from the duo Garage Cell, walkedthe carpet as did Ryo Tamura, who was greeted by extra loud screams when his died-blondlocks appeared.

Veterancomedians including Hitoshi Matsumoto will join the festivities later in the week for his film “Scabbard Samurai” which was released in Japan last year and recently played in Deauville in France.

102 films from 13 countries will unspool over the coming week, building on the 310,000 admissions recorded last year.

Starting amatter of days after 3/11, the festival was re-positioned overnight last year to become a fundraiser to support recovery efforts. More than $1 million wasraised from donations from hundreds of comedians and spectators.

This year,“3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake: A Photo Exhibition by Yasushi Handa” willrun during the festival and the documentary “Pray for Japan,” from director StuLevy, follows the re-building efforts.

On alighter note, a number of stand-up comedy nights will be held at the main venue, the Okinawa Convention Center, steps from the moody ocean crashing intothese sandy shores, beloved by Japanese holiday-makers and adventurers alike.

Thefestival is also hosting several business conventions, including the Okinawa Contents Land, which will present content from 50 companies, ranging from videogames to television programming.

OkinawaContents Bazaar, which runs in parallel, is aiming to promote cross-cultural collaboration on new film projects. Organizers are working with new talent tohelp them succeed in different markets and create “new cultural bridges.”

Japan hasstepped up efforts in recent years to better support soft industries, such as content and fashion, through its initiative Cool Japan.

Other filmsplaying this year include the American comedy “Bridesmaids,” from Paul Feig, andt he Japanese title “Dream in the Rising Sun,” which follows an American singerwho is asked to change sexes in order to land the job of his dreams.

TheJapanese film “Ah!Minister! pokes fun at the government with this comedy about an attempt to pass a bill banning the Japanese from wearing women’s underwear.

Films competingin the laughter category include Hong Kong’s “All’s Well Ends Well 2012” about a woman who starts a website encouraging men to donate time to embrace women that need a hug.

In the Okinawanfilm “Hai-Zai,” meanwhile, a woman mistaken for a local shaman is kidnapped bythe yakuza. “I like to think that the Japanese have a great sense of humor,”said one volunteer on Friday. “And peace isn’t just about the Dalai Lama. It can be tales of family reconciliation or anything.”

Okinawansare thought to live the longest because of their balanced lifestyle, spirituality and, especially, their diet, which is high in fresh fish, grains and fruit and vegetables.



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