28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – SPECIAL SCREENINGS, JAPANESE CINEMA SPLASH & CROSSCUT ASIA #02: THE HEAT OF PHILLIPINE CINEMA•November 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – SPECIAL SCREENINGS, JAPANESE CINEMA SPLASH & CROSSCUT ASIA #02: THE HEAT OF PHILLIPINE CINEMA
THE WALK (USA, Robert Zemeckis)
Read the full review here.
EVEREST (USA, Baltasar Kormäkur)
Read the full review here.
WOMAN IN GOLD (USA – UK, Simon Curtis)
Based on the fascinating true story of the late Maria Altmann, a Vienesse born refugees living in Los Angeles, who fought the government of Austria for almost a decade with a young lawyer Randy Schoenberg to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s more than $100M worth iconic painting of her aunt ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ – stolen by the Nazis in the WW2, ‘Woman in Gold’ is a legal drama that sounds so much like an award contender by Simon Curtis (‘My Week with Marylin’) name, Helen Mirren and mostly The Weinstein Company who distributed the film. The film’s also filled with a huge ensemble cast that includes Ryan Reynolds in the role of Schoenberg, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Antje Traue and German-owned Moritz Bleibtreu in his brief appearance as Gustav Klimt himself.
The thing with ‘Woman in Gold’ is the movie seem to play too safe in cliche territory of feel good legal-drama that is more to an odd couple mission, often goes with almost too comical characters – including Reynolds character – instead of building greater emotional impact on its darker elements of the true-story as an award contender. Though so, Helen Mirren’s performance and most of its talented supporting cast including one to be greatly noted, Tatiana Maslany as young Mirren, is surely unquestionable to create a convincing and crowd-pleasing movie based on a true story. ‘Woman in Gold’, nevertheless, still left some memorable scenes – mostly in its desaturated color-flashbacks and quite compelling climax. It might not fit the serious critics’ taste nor a strong award contender, but still an important film with lots of historical informations.
MOZU (Japan, Eiichiro Hasumi)
Based on 15 episodes – award winning WOWOW/TBS TV series, a hard-boiled cop actioner from the popular novel ‘Go Osaka’, ‘Mozu’ serves as a continuation of the series, by hitmaker director Eiichiro Hasumi, known famously for ‘Umizaru’ franchise and the recent live action version of ‘Assassination Classroom’.
Set six months after the event in the series, Inspector Kuraki (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a young detective who fell into alcohol problem after the death of his wife and kids, now has to deal with a group of terrorist who kidnap a 16 year old autistic girl after some explosions and embassy attack. Working together with Ex-cop turns private eye Ohsugi (Teruyuki Kagawa), their investigations lead to mysterious mastermind named Daruma / Mozu (played by Takeshi Kitano).
Just like the series, only bigger and sometimes more absurd in portraying street chase to gore combats and torturing scenes, ‘Mozu’ needs no further explanation as a straight-forward high octane action entertainment.
YOU’RE NOT YOU (USA, George C. Wolfe)
Based on the novel of the same name by Michelle Wildgen, a film that brought two times Oscar winner Hilary Swank to TIFF, ‘You’re Not You’, tells the moving story of Kate (played by Swank), a classical pianist with ALS (Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and her caregiver companion, a free-spirited college student and failed singer-songwriter Bec (Emmy Rossum), in the seek of redemption to her directionless life.
Directed by award winning George C. Wolfe from ‘Angels in America’ and also starred Josh Duhamel, Ali Larter and many more, Shana Feste and Jordan Roberts’ script was effectively moves the comically formulaic setup, bumping the contrast of its two main characters to the more subtle looks that posed tough questions on how to live and cope with such disease. Swank once again showed her devoted performance – physically and emotionally; playing an ALS sufferer over a wonderful chemistry with Rossum, also plays Bec deeply commited, while the rest of supporting cast – Loretta Devine and Ernie Hudson who plays a couple of fellow patients, Frances Fisher and Marcia Gay Harden as Swank and Rossum’s mom, and Jason Ritter, each gave their notable performance. With this power of emotional complexity, which is thoughtful, inspiring and filled with positivity without ever exploiting its main ALS theme, ‘You’re Not You’ can get away from any cliche form of a disease porn.
JAPANESE CINEMA SPLASH
KEN AND KAZU (Hiroshi Shoji)
Based on Hiroshi Shoji’s eponymous 23 mins short in 2011 from Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia 2011 Japan Competition, also travel abroad to Rotterdam, ‘Ken and Kazu’ is slightly different than other TIFF’s Japanese Cinema Splash entries that mostly plays in arthouse drama territory. The film revolves around Ken (Shinsuke Kato) and his lifelong buddy Kazu (Katsuya Maiguma), also partners in methamphetamine smuggling. The conflict between them is rising when Ken, forced by his girlfriend’s pregnancy, tried to stop but Kazu, with his new partner, goes on selling without their boss’ approval.
Just won this year’s Japanese Cinema Splash Best Picture, the strongest element in ‘Ken and Kazu’ is the acting chemistry between its two leads. The premise might sound cliche in the crime genre, but as an independent filmmaking, the film runs in fast pace without crossing any line of indie territory. The camera work is exquisite, too, and like last year success of ‘100 Yen Love‘, which opened the way of these fine selections of Japanese independent movies to a wider distribution, ‘Ken and Kazu‘ will be very likely gained more attention from the larger public audience.
HER FATHER, MY LOVER / TOMODACHI PAPA (Kenji Yamauchi)
Of all this year’s Japanese Cinema Splash selected movies, ‘Her Father, My Lover’ might one that has a very interesting premise about a young university student, Maya (Wako Ando) falls in love with her sensible friend’s – Taeko (Yukino Kishii) father, Kyosuke (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), who already divorced Maya’s Mom over an affair with his workmate results in the girl’s pregnancy. All of this haven’t stop Maya’s obsession to Kyosuke, though her former high school teacher begins to stalk her, causing an weird chain reaction of imploding relationship.
It may sound like a chaotic black comedy, which director Kenji Yamauchi also sets the movie to become one. The setup was quite good but somehow the movie loses itself in the middle, towards the awkward ending that’s not thoroughly successful to conclude the aftermath.
CROSSCUT ASIA #02: THE HEAT OF PHILLIPINE CINEMA
SERBIS / SERVICE (2008, Brillante Ma Mendoza)
Focusing Phillipine Cinema in the 2nd Crosscut Asia Special Program by Japan Foundation Asia Center, the section has five selected Phillipine movies and another five in its special focus; The World of Brillante Ma Mendoza as one of the hottest director in Phillipine’s independent movie scene. ‘Serbis’ was his seventh film, one that gained many attentions as 2008 Cannes’ Main Competition list.
There might be not enough words to describe Mendoza’s distinctly exploitative works over an explicit absurdity he shown in ‘Serbis’ to portray a fractured family through every rooms and corridors in a failed Phillipine’s porn movie theatre. While some people might find them really annoying, the idea of putting sex as a commodity in a third world runs amok also comes tickling and quite unforgettable over its 94 mins duration.
TAKLUB / TRAP (2015, Brillante Ma Mendoza)
Sixteen films since 2005 has made Brillante Mendoza an auteur in Phillipine’s independent movie scene. His new work, ‘Taklub’, which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival followed the survivors and how they picked up their lives in the aftermath of the Super Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the central part of Phillipine through an intertwined plot of his characters. Starred Phillipine’s legendary senior actress Nora Aunor, ‘Taklub’ was officially made by the request of their Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but instead making a documentary, Mendoza choose a narrative way that plays like a docu-drama.
Although marked as a government-backed project, Mendoza never compromised his signature in portraying a bleak and gritty world, often with pessimistic yet satirical and intimate glimpse. It’s again, not a film for everybody, but nonetheless, a well made, well acted and engaging human drama in Mendoza’s way of his distinct visual aesthetic.
KID KULAFU (2015, Paul Soriano)
Unlike last year’s selections in Crosscut Asia: Thai Fascination that put mainstream and arthouse – independent movie in balance, ‘Kid Kulafu’ might be the only selection that can widely received by public audience. Telling the untold truth about their boxing legend Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao, the film plays straight as a biographical sports drama about Manny’s childhood. And this is not the first Manny biopic from Phillipine Cinema. There were ‘Pacquiao: The Movie’ (2006) and a 2014 documentary ‘Manny’narrated by Liam Neeson.
‘Kid Kulafu’ was actually not being something so different in the genre over the straight-forward intention to portray the titular character as the man who went against all odds to strive his natural talent and greatness. The movie portray Manny’s life from birth to childhood and his young age where he discovers his natural talent for boxing, and then took the intense journey from the mountains of Phillipine to the streets of Manila to find his motivation as a champion. But despite the cliche turns and some too dramatized plot in any biographical sports drama, the power of ‘Kid Kulafu’ lies in well-shot and executed fight scenes, and Robert ‘Buboy’ Villar’s convincing effort to play the young Manny. (dan)
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – WORLD FOCUS AND PANORAMA
VICTORIA (Germany, Sebastian Schipper)
While this section of TIFF took focus on films that have screened around other international festivals with acclaimed status, award winning ones and other excellent works that created a global spotlight, ‘Victoria’, a German film from director Sebastian Schipper is among them. It won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and also one of their list as a official submission for the 88th Academy Awards (though it lost out to ‘Labyrinth of Lies’) after receiving six categories of this year’s German film Award including Best Feature Film.
Like ‘Birdman’, ‘Victoria’ is also a one-shot wonder of a filming style with its final cut constitued of a single continuous take , shot over 134 mins in 22 locations by the cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who tributed as the first credit in the end of the movie breaking any conventional ways) and not just worked as an unimportant gimmick. The story about the titular heroine (played by Laia Costa in her impeccable performance), a small Spanish cafe waitress that runs into a group of men led by Sonne (Frederick Lau) with a plan over their debt to underworld criminals. The event then leads to a high-stakes heist thriller when the plan goes amok. Plays like a very different ‘Run Lola Run’ in a one-night experience, not only it worked as a gripping and compelling thriller with its thrilling pace, but also captured the strong dialogues and geographic narratives beyond the set.
THE ARK OF MR. CHOW (China, Xiao Yang)
Recommended by Shanghai International Film Festival, ‘The Ark of Mr. Chow’ sounds like a Chinese boot camp period youth fantasy over the premise of a group of brightly talented teenagers who were recruited for a special college program by an authority named Mr. Chow (played well by Sun Honglei from ‘Drug War’). But the new 33 year old mainland director Xiao Yang from Feng Xiaogang’s movies was not making a fantasy movie by any means. Instead, by his own personal experience as once a part of special government class program, he choose the satirical take on the Chinese education system and any government policies on that system.
The story moved around this special class where five of the young leads; Fung Ho-cheung (Li Jiaqi), 11-year old chubby-genious, Mike (Wang Yuexin), a handsome delinquent, Dafa (Liu Xilong), an eccentric peasant from the province, Way (Dong Zijian), an ordinary kid whose ambitious mom faked his grades and Zhou Lan (Zhou Dongyu), the only girl reserved to join the competition recruited by the film’s titular character over, who was a member of the first Youth Class, a program begun in the People’s Republic of China in 1978, over a prestigious International Math Competition. The film was actually more focused to its characters and their formulaic interactions in many similar themes, but saved with the lively performance and fine technical contributions, and nevertheless, it still can emphasized the underlined message about student’s personal developments beyond academic excellence and social awkwardness.
GURU BANGSA TJOKROAMINOTO / THE HIJRA (Indonesia, Garin Nugroho)
Read the full review here.
Read the Tokyo interview with the producers Christine Hakim, Dewi Umaya & Nayaka Untara here.
TO THE FORE (Hong Kong – China, Dante Lam)
This high profile cycling sports action drama from director Dante Lam, after his effort in the same genre with 2013’s successful MMA film ‘Unbeatable’ is also one of this year’s most successful film in Hong Kong and China box office. Starred three Asian heartthrobs Eddie Peng, Shawn Dou and Korean’s Choi Siwon, the film revolves around them as a professional cycling team ‘Radiant’ and the romance conflict over Shiyao (Wang Luodan), China’s track cyclist who’s struggling to make a comeback that leads to an even deeper frictions when their team’s financial difficulties took them to different teams against one another.
Although mostly playing it safe without diving darker territory, pure to a feel good sports action drama, inspired by one real life story of a Hong Kong’s cycling champion, Lam really showed his love to this cycling sport theme which rarely touched on into movies. One that many still remembered until now is of course Peter Yates’ 1979 Oscar nominee ‘Breaking Away’. Bringing one of his lifelong dream to helm a cycling sports movie, Lam, nevertheless, shaped ‘To the Fore’ with his signature in tension building as a stunning one over a detail aspect the Cantonese title depicts to one of cycling technique called ‘breaking wind’, refers to drafting or slipstreaming in performing ‘lead outs’, where a cyclist sacrifices himself by riding fast in front of a team mate who sits in close behind to gain the advantage of the wind block. The shots and editing are skillful to aim the cycling formations through dynamic angles, also with its aerial shots and the mountain set landscapes, plus the score by Henry Lai, resembled what ‘Fast & Furious’ did to car racing in creating excitements and adrenaline rush in sports themes.
OK DARLING / O KADHAL KANMANI (India, Mani Ratnam)
After Telugu (Tollywood) entry, ‘Eega’ in 2013 TIFF Indian film selections, ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’, written, produced and directed by the auteur Mani Ratnam comes from Madras, another region of Indian movies known as Tamil or Kollywood movies. Portraying a love story between a young couple in Mumbai (played by Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen) the film may looks just like another boy-meets-girl love story, but way deeper than that, it posed a modern issues against marriage and their traditional values – one that has been very unconventional in their cinemas, about a live-in relationship. As Ratnam said, the film was meant to be a reflection of the modern mindset of urban India nowadays.
Like other Mani Ratnam’s works, the film dove deeper beyond the wonderfully cute and lovable chemistry of its two leads, and also senior actors Prakash Raj and Leela Samson in the relevant supporting roles to bump this idea between younger and older society. The cinematography by P.C. Sreeram also added the touch in making the film as an unconventional love tale unlike most of their romances, and of course, the maestro A.R. Rahman’s music compositions, continuing his lifelong works with Ratnam. ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’ is truly this year’s one of the most beautiful Indian romance.
WHERE THE WIND SETTLES (Taiwan, Wang Tung)
As the veteran – 6 Golden Horse Award winner – director Wang Tung’s first feature in a decade and also his ambitious epic film, ‘Where the Wind Settles’ is a war drama about three Chinese soldiers who escape to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war where the Chinese Nationalist Party lost the civil war to the communist, where they find another struggles to continue their lives.
It depicts the director’s experience with his family on how the China’s post-war generations flew to Taipei as the new capital of the Chinese Nationalist Party regime declared by Chiang Kai-shek, but like most movies about a turbulent chapter in history, it merely played rather as a tragedy. The pessimistic tone lies over the nostalgic theme that made the film’s quite hard to follow, though at least, ‘Where the Wind Settles’ has handsome production design, while the Taiwan – China ensemble cast is another thing to look at.
DARK PLACES (USA – France, Gilles Paquet-Brenner)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same title, ‘Dark Places’ actually had a potential premise as a twisty thriller. Also having great ensemble cast that includes Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz, Tye Sheridan, Sterling Jerins, Corey Stoll, Drea de Matteo and Andrea Roth, the movie tells a story of bookwriter Libby Day (played by Theron), the only surviving witness of a horrific massacre where she also lost her mother and sisters, that must once again went through her traumatic memories to prove the evidence from a club of amateur investigators led by Hoult on his brother’s – once believed was obsessed in a Satanic cult activity – innocence.
There are nothing really wrong about ‘Dark Places’ with its potential, but bad script and storytelling difficulties revolving the plot in two intertwined timeline structure felt rather too amusing than convincing, and also interrupting each emotional impact. The power of the ensemble cast might help, but there’s just too many loose ends to maintain the pace going smooth.
PADDINGTON (UK, Paul King)
Read the full review here
LAST KNIGHTS (USA, Kazuaki Kiriya)
There might be good clicks between the choice of Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya from ‘Casshern’ and ‘Goemon’ and the film that was based on the Japanese-owned legend ’47 Ronin’. Also the idea on the star-studded international cast led by UK’s Clive Owen and USA’s Morgan Freeman – that exits the movie far too soon; there are New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis, Norway’s Aksel Hennie, Israel’s Ayelet Zurer, Korea’s Ahn Sung-ki and Park Si-yeon, Japan’s Tsuyoshi Ihara to Iran’s Shoreh Aghdashloo and Peyman Mooadi.
But unfortunately, despite those international lines of the cast and some piece of actions that still helps this medieval adventure, the movie brought nothing really new to its genre and moreover, by its overall looks, fell into Lionsgate’s B-movie territory instead of a convincing blockbusters.
BEASTS OF NO NATION (USA, Cary Joji Fukunaga)
In the unnamed West African village that turn upside down by revolution, a boy named Agu (played surprisingly with Oscar quality-performance by Ghanaian native young and first-time actor Abraham Attah) was forced to become a child soldier after a militia attack. Soon, over the hardships of war, Agu and the bunch of other child soldier found themselves initially recruited by The Comandant (Idris Elba, again on one of his most magnetic performance), an unholy drill sargeant that plays like a father but with his thirst for blood teaching them to be murderers, torturers and rapist beyond his no-holds-barred ideology of war. Drown in the never ending violent acts, Agu must survived his trial by fire without ever understanding the cause and consequences.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, shot in Ghana over five week of unbearable havoc as reported, this first original feature film released by Netflix directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga might aim big for this year’s award season. Already won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, the movie indeed was an uncompromising look of brutal realism in war. At many times, Fukunaga carved it closer to a horrifying horror with its explicit goriness – torturing the audience emotionally and spiritually, making it a distinct cinematic experience just like the title itself. Beasts.
MASTERS OF J-HORROR
GHOST THEATER / GEKIJOUREI (Japan, Hideo Nakata)
Along with other Japanese well known horror movies as one of their strongest content in J-Cinema; Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On’ (2003), Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Cure’ (1997) and Hideo Nakata’s ‘Don’t Look Up’ (1996), this year’s special section also features Nakata’s latest horror ‘Ghost Theater’ which will be released later next year. Spreading new fear on horror cliche territory; a living evil doll – now a mannequin, there’s also a glimpse to ‘Don’t Look Up’ in its part of the plot about the rivalry between a leading female actress and a rising girl talent.
Begins with a prologue about the manneuqin whose head got decapitated by a man, father of two schoolgirls victim before he was taken by the police on the suspicion of murder, the film moves to twenty years later, where the mannequin’s head reappear as a theater prop in the new production ‘Whimper of Fresh Blood’ which based on the life of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess also a serial killer who murdered hundred of young virgins to bathe in their blood as anti-aging care to keep herself young. There, Sara (AKB48’s Haruka Shimazaki), a young actress stuck in typecast on playing dead corpse has finally landed in a leading role after the uncapable female lead Aoi (Riho Takada) struck by the evil mannequin during rehearsals, but soon she also encounters a dread rivalry amongst the fellow cast including the ambitious Kaori (Rika Adachi).
Playing his horror in the movies’ stage-set and theatre troups with well known-signatures, from the ghost looks – long black hair covering faces, white dress and overall – his power in portraying women characters, unfortunately can’t cover the film’s weakness in its script and lack of narrative tensions, while the fear vehicle, the sinister mannequin, also didn’t work that well. Leaving only a few scary moments, although there’s nothing really wrong about the cast, ‘Ghost Theater’ might still work for Asian horror-fans, but obviously nowhere near Nakata’s masterpiece ‘Ringu’ or ‘Dark Water’. (dan)
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: MOVIE REVIEWS – COMPETITION AND ASIAN FUTURE
ALL THREE OF US / NOUS TROIS OU RIEN (France, Kheiron)
Not many of us will notice until the end credits rolled that ‘All Three of Us’, is a sort of tribute from the comedian-actor and rapper-turns-director to his parents. Tells the story based on his father’s life – played by Kheiron himself – through long struggle of Iranian people during the Iranian revolution, from tyranny of Shah’s regime to Khomeini’s dictatorship, who served his time in Iranian prison and then reunited with his wife and their baby-boy in a tenseful exodus to Paris to build a social community, Kheiron portrayed the gritty part of their political history with a fun and offbeat comedy, without ever losing the film’s dramatic power.
What felt special was not only how it resembled what ‘Life is Beautiful’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ has done to their dark background of each histories, even with many of laugh-out-loud satirical dialogues, but more, Kheiron built this tale of love, family and bravery with a parallel views to another struggle and oppressions beyond issues of social activisms in Paris’ northern outskirts. Leila Bekhti also gave a wonderful performance as Kheiron’s real life mother, Fereshteh, sweep the screen with his natural beauty, and also Gerard Darmon and Zabou Breitman, played her parents along wityh the movie’s strong POV of hope and positivity.
BORN TO BE BLUE (USA – Canada – UK, Robert Budreau)
There’s not quite a lot of something called ‘jazz movies’ although last year’s ‘Whiplash’ might already widened the way to the genre – as Miles Davis’ biopic starred Don Cheadle will come out next year, but as one of the competition film in this year’s festival, Robert Budreau’s Canadian ‘Born to be Blue’ was sure something to look at. Before Tokyo, the movie, which soon will be released internationally by IFC Films, was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
Carved a piece of Chet Baker’s (Ethan Hawke) downhill career beyond heroin abuse, financial loss and public disgrace, the movie started off in the late ‘60s where Baker – in an Italian prison, got an offer from the Hollywood producer in a movie role. Over a flashback that explained his top of career in the mid ‘50s, playing in Birdland, called as the inventor of West Coast swing and the No. 1 trumpet player on the DownBeat reader’s poll, hated by some East Coast musicians including Miles Davis (played by Kedar Brown), Baker then threw himself to lots of groupies and even drug addictions. Now hoping his to get his career back, not only trying to make the movie – with Jane (Carmen Ejogo), his real life girlfriend who was also playing the female lead – works and overcome his addictions to pull himself back together after an event that caused a bad damage to his mouth by drugdealers, Baker stage a comeback from small bars to one final live recording gig, with the trust from Jane and his reticent producer, Dick Bock (played by Callum Keith Rennie), also Dizzy Gillespie (Kevin Hanchard).
The most interesting part of ‘Born to Be Blue’ was it’s not played like a straight-forward biopic. Also featured one of Ethan Hawke’s finest performance in his acting career – doing his detailed trumpet fingerings and did his own singing, too, Budreau surprisingly came with a different approach to portray Baker’s parts of life events pieces by pieces, mixing factual and mostly fictional events. Not only different, on the deepest layer, the movie tells a story of a musician struggling with addiction, a chance to comeback beyond a sort of sexy romance and overall, the spirit of jazz through movie-in-movie style of storytelling, which made the movie even more interesting.
Carmen Ejogo also plays an important part to make ‘Born to be Blue’ felt stronger as a sexy and romantic love story. Playing a composite of all the women in Chet Baker’s life, Ejogo steals every scenes she’s in with impeccable depths and elegant beauty.
To jazz cravers, the part of David Braid’s rendition of Chet Baker’s works also one of the film’s most wonderful highlights. Collaborated with Canadian trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, Braid wasn’t only re-composing the music, but in depths, communicate the struggle of the injured artist which was the central theme of Budreau’s idea. Just like jazz, the movie improvises. It might be a metafiction of Chet Baker’s life, but also captured the spirit of his remarkable legacies, and overall, jazz.
FOUJITA (Japan – France, Kohei Oguri)
Being a biopic of famous Japanese artist/painter Tsuguharu Foujita, the only one that considered part of the ‘School of Paris’ by his relationship with such legends like Picasso and Modigliani. Mixing up European style and Japanese ink techinques in his paintings, Foujita also famously known by his female nudes paintings, ‘Foujita’, helmed by Cannes’ 1990 Grand Prix Winner veteran director – auteur Kohei Oguri from ‘The Sting of Death’ serves like an obscure art itself.
Started off as a sort of grand East – West joint production biopics that also featured Ana Girardot (as European model Lucie – whom he called Yuki/snow and later explained his style of delicate white shadows in his paintings) and Timothy Spall, the film took its dramatic turns when Foujita returns to Japan from realism to an obscure surrealism to portray Foujita’s artistic visions – now wearing the uniform of official Imperial painter – in a great and darker change to his painting style.
Nevertheless, Jo Odagiri’s wonderful transformations to resemblance Foujita’s self portrait with round glasses, ‘60s pony haircut and Hitler’s mustache, and Miki Nakatani who played his long life Japanese first wife Kimiko were something to be noted along with Hiroshi Machida’s dreamy-like cinematography.
THE GIRL’S HOUSE / KHANEYE DOKHTAR (Iran, Shahram Shah Hosseini)
‘The Girl’s House (Khaneye Dokhtar)’, Iran entry in the Competition was also quite an important film to look at. The 2014 Iranian production, directed by Shahram Shah-Hosseini, marked the continuous banning of film in Iran over sensitive topics. Over the premise of the death of an Iranian bride-to-be that unfolds like a mystery by her friends investigations, the film deals with important issues that still facing Iranian women over the dark truth of traditional Islamic society.
Featured a natural yet strong performance from Hamed Behdad and Rana Azadivar, the film plays like most Iranian films, simple yet meaningful with values over its dialogues, also posed a very big questions. It highlights a tragedy that might be specific to Iranian or Islamic thoughts, that touched a sensitive area of suicide, virginity and sins, but carries a universal message of how a life, or rather, the end of life, affects all who are left behind.
GOD WILLING / SE DUO VIOLE (Italy, Edoardo Falcone)
Won the 28th TIFF Audience Award, the recent Italian box office champ that also gave director Edoardo Falcone the Best New Director Award at Italian Oscars, tells a story about the conflict of a father to his son.
The life of successful and skilled but also self-centered and arrogant surgeon, Tomasso (played by Marco Gialini), also an atheist, was put on the line when his medical student – son, Andrea, confessed that he wanted to be a priest. And not only that, his wife and his daughter also choose the same way of religious Catholic life. Confused and horrified, Tomasso then goes undercover to strike a charismatic priest Don Pietro (played by Alessandro Gassman) who he believes as the brain behind this situations.
The best thing in ‘God Willing’ is Edoardo Falcone’s structure to build a chaos comedy that already has a strong father to son and family premise. Although serves as a light comedy, the credible casts, witty dialogues and comedic play never left the depth of its conflict behind. It’s easily speak and emotionally resonates to any audience.
THE INERASABLE (Japan, Yoshihiro Nakamura)
It is quite unusual that a horror movie selected as the entry in the Competition Section. Having Yoshihiro Nakamura’s (‘The Snow White Murder Case’) return to J-horror after ten years, ‘The Inerasable’ seems like breaking a barrier that might lies over this year’s special focus on the diverse works of Japanese cinema. The movie itself indeed contains a deep social context on the Japanese culture than just an eerie horror show; where most people in Japan still believe that the properties renting or buying might has a thing with its previous history, mostly if it’s related to mysterious deaths and uneasy spirits.
Told with the first-person narrator style, a horror novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) who also did house-hunting things with her husband, bumped into one of her fan, Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), an architecture student, also a member of the college mystery club, who asked her to investigate a strange noise from the bedroom of her apartment.
Pulling its interconnected twists and mysteries one after another, the film which based on a bestselling Japanese novel by Fuyumi Ono, was actually a bit slowburn as a J-horror although took its typical characteristic with strong female characters and cultural myths. Atmospheric but rarely scare-off the audience, ‘The Inerasable’ played more as a mystery that requires solving than a horror story that needs to be endured, just like Nakamura said. It has depth and differences, which in some ways – good, but might be not the one many people wish for as a straight-forward horror show.
LAND OF MINE (Denmark – Germany, Martin Peter Zandvliet)
Tells a different WW2 story that put its narrow focus between two men as a compelling thriller to depict much more greater anti-war message, ‘Land of Mine’ shared a not very well known history about millions of land mines buried as a Nazi’s legacy on the western coastline of Denmark. After the WW2, The German POWs in Denmark, mostly teenage boys, were sent to defuse these land mines. During this unavoidable deadly mission, Danish Sargeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller) starting to bond with one of the boys, Sebastian (Louis Hoffman) as his compassion takes over his anger and command.
Unlike any other WW2 dramas, director Zandvliet built ‘Land of Mine’ as a war thriller in distinctive ways. Gripping and suspenseful, without ever losing the depth of its anti-war spirit, ‘Land of Mine’ also offered a really strong chemistry and powerful acts by Møller and Hoffman who used effectively as the centre of the film. The great landscape shots by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen (Zandvliet’s wife) is something to be noted, with taut film and sound editing, too.
NISE – THE HEART OF MADNESS / O CORACAO DA LOUCORA (Brazil, Roberto Berliner)
This year’s TIFF Tokyo Grand Prix Winner, ‘Nise’ is a moving story about a real life Nise da Silveira, Brazilian female psychiatrist who gave her everything confronting a conservative, male order in the mental-health establihsment to reformed more humane ways to the abusive electroshock therapies through paints, dogs and love.
In director Berliner’s hands and mostly – a powerhouse performance from Brazillian-owned famous telenovela actress Gloria Pires, ‘Nise’ comes with total appeal to portray triumph, bravery and humanity over a solid script that captured the source’s strong spirits. Yes, it was a classic against-all-odds journey of a humanity heroine, also filled with cliche – typical black vs white characters in its overall storytelling, but never once losing its emotional, and artistic achievements.
SAYONARA (Japan, Koji Fukada)
Dark, pessimistic and also depressing, Koji Fukada’s ‘Sayonara’ which adapted from a stage play by Oriza Hirata, the founder of Japan’s Seinendan Theater Company who developed one-act plays for Osaka University’s Robot-Human Theatre Project with robotic scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, tells a story between a sick young South African woman, Tanya (played beautifully by Bryerly Young) awaits death and Leona, her android companion in Japan’s post apocalyptic set.
But the most interesting thing in this melancholy-moody and statically-dreamy film, in Fukada’s way from ‘Hospitalite’ and his 2013’s TIFF entry in Japanese Cinema Splash section, ‘Au Revoir L’ete’, that many said has a subtle resemblance to Eric Rohmer one that felt so weird at times, is it’s the first film co-starred a real android named ‘Geminoid F’. While Irene Jacob, who also starred as Tanya’s mother has only a brief appearance. It might be a bit too experimental for some audience, but also strike a thought of another real android appearance in the future cinemas.
THE CRESCENT MOON / MENCARI HILAL (Indonesia, Ismail Basbeth)
Read the full review here
IF ONLY / KAASH (India, Ishaan Nair)
Helmed by Mira Nair’s nephew, fashion photographer Ishaan Nair in his directing debut, and also co-produced by Irrfan Khan, ‘If Only / Kaash’ (not the same titled 1987’s Mahesh Bhatt’s film) is a contemporary Bollywood love tale. Starred their young up-and-coming actors Varun Mitra, Nidhi Sunil, Kavya Trehan and special appearance by Kalki Koechlin, ‘Kaash’ tells a story of Aadil (Varun Mitra), a young photographer who got frustrated by his relationship with Samira (Indian model – Nidhi Sunil), a Bollywood starlet on the rise, and then sets a journey from Mumbai to Gujarat to meet his free-spirited internet girl Khushali (Kavya Trehan).
Exploring endless possibilities, as Ishaan Nair said in the press release, in a tale of modern love, ‘Kaash’ plays more like an independent Bollywood movie in every ways, including the short – but tempting appearance of their indie queen, Kalki Koechlin. Though at some points the influence of Mira Nair looks obvious, but helming its debut, Ishaan mostly came out with his own cinematic style. The chemistry between its three leads works wonderfully well, Savera Mehta’s score, too, and although the ending felt a bit rushed, ‘Kaash’ nevertheless depicts modern realisms, more intimate and deeply sensual explorations we might be missing from many Bollywood’s mainstream movies.
LAZY, HAZY, CRAZY (Hong Kong, Luk Yee-sum)
Produced by Hong Kong indie actor-producer-director Pang Ho-cheung (‘Beyond Our Ken’, ‘Isabella’ and ‘Aberdeen’) and directed by Luk Yee-sum, writers of some Pang’s films, ‘Lazy, Hazy, Crazy’, the winner of HAF Awards at the Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum in March, might look no more than a cliché coming of age – youth drama with Category III rating about three girls who work part time as prostitutes.
Though so, starred Ashina Kwok in her promising debut and controversial topless scene, Fish Liew (‘Doomsday Party’) and Koyi Mak with brief performance from J-gravure idol Sola Aoi, too, there’s something different in Pang and Luk collaborations as both award-winning Hong Kong’s indie heavyweights. Being treated differently, not fallen into any ’90s Category III cheap erotic movie hole, the film is artfully crafted – mostly over ambience, and using its mildly erotic touches relevantly with what Luk’s script needed, which if not any deeper and might be sexist to some women audience, but contains intimate looks at Asian youth nowadays. A fun, sexy and different coming of age – erotic feature filled with necessary naughtiness.
STAIR DAD / MERDIVEN BABA (Turkey, Hasan Tolga Pulat)
This year’s TIFF Turkish entry in the Asian Future section, ‘Stair Dad’ offers a family dramedy about a dad, Mr. Fazli (played by Haci Ali Konuk), who is recognized as an economically inadequate father and ineffective person in his society. Losing his family, he’s trying to get them back with the purchase of an old truck, which in the aftermath served help to many people.
While the idea of common – everyday heroes in the family might sounds really interesting for a comedy, ‘Stair Dad’, unfortunately not giving any justice to most of its one dimensional characters. Though it might be meant to show a glimpse of their local culture, but the script mostly builds its empathy only for the titular character, while leaving any characters around him has none. Still fun, but not as great as the premise sounds. (dan)
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: AWARD WINNERS
Announced its award winners of their 28th Tokyo International Film Festival on the closing day, Oct. 31st, the Brazilian biopic ‘Nise – The Heart of Madness’ took this year’s Tokyo Grand Prix and Best Actress Award for Brazil’s famous actress Gloria Pires. The moving story about a real life source Nise da Silveira, female psychiatrist who gave her everything confronting a conservative, male order in the mental-health establihsment to reformed more humane ways to the abusive electroshock therapies through paints, dogs and love, successfully moved the international jury members led by Bryan Singer.
Spoke about the process, which was tough over some other good Competition entries in the festival, Singer said that he had a few conflict with other jury members to pick the winner. But it was the main theme of ‘Nise’ that really resonated to him, who once worked as a driver of a bus for mentally disabled children while he was in college, as well as having an autistic cousin. Comparing ‘Nise’ to other titles, Singer said although he came from the independent filmmaking and understand the challenge, he also wanted to be entertained when he watched movies.
Tran Anh Hung, who was more with ‘Cold of Kalandar’ at first, responded to Singer, saying there really was a fight but the spirit, otherwise was elegant, where each of them really expressed what they really liked and the end they were still be able to choose the best one and still smile at each other.
Bent Hamer added that they were all very open-minded and in the end, they were basically on the same page about which film they wanted to award.
Kazuki Omori explained in more details that out of 6 titles Bryan Singer named in the final meeting as the best candidates, ones that really drew them in, the process actually went very well and they all pleased about the film that was selected.
Susanne Bier expressed her thought that as the jury of film festivals, they were not looking for perfection or an accomplished film, but more to see future potentials and that was the beauty of it.
While Nansun Shi described although personal experience could affected one’s choice of films, “When a film is really well made, it transcends, it can draw you into it, and give you that experience, bringing a new world to you. And that is what the award-winning films are about”.
The announcement of the award winners started with the Samurai Award, which went to director Yoji Yamada and John Woo for their achievements as filmmakers who continue to create groundbreaking films that carve a path to a new era.
As the newly established Arigatö Award is presented to express a heartfelt “Arigatö!” to filmmakers who have contributed immensely to the film industry and have always shown something memorable and spectacular. The award goes to the actress Kirin Kiki for her great achievement and influence over the years, video game developer Akihiro Hino for his film ‘Yo-kai Watch‘ which created a whirlwind success in the industry, actress Suzu Hirose for stealing the scenes as an up and coming actress, director Mamoru Hosoda for his feature animation film that achieved a groundbreaking box-office and illustrator, novelist and actor Lily Franky for his inimitable accomplishment in various artistic genres.
Here are the complete list of winners of the 28th TIFF:
Japanese Cinema Splash Award
Best Picture Award: KEN AND KAZU directed by Hiroshi Shoji
According to Mark Peranson, jury member and head of programming at the Festival del Film Locarno, the general quality of acting in ‘Ken and Kazu’ was very high and the camerawork and editing were very precise. Receiving the award, Hiroshi Shoji expressed his joy and give thanks especially for the two film’s leads, Shinsuke Kato and Katsuya Maiguma.
In the award winner press conference, he also said that he only spent 2 million yen on the film, and receiving the prize proved that fair screening is conducted at TIFF and why he wanted TIFF to become a larger film festival. About the independent film industry in Japan, Hino added that it’s important to have a clear vision of what you want to do in indie filmmaking. The 29 year old up and coming director had transformed a short film with the same title into a feature film.
The Asian Future Film Award:
The Spirit of Asia Award by the Japan Foundation Asia Center: A SIMPLE GOODBYE (China) directed by Degena Yun
Commented on the selecting process, Tadao Sato, jury member of the Asian Future section and President of the Japan Institute of the moving image, said that it was highly difficult to pick one of the entries because each of them reflected the culture and current situation of their own country, which also the main criteria in the section. Receiving the award on behalf of Yun, the film’s line producer Zhao Yanming said director Yun was very happy and honored for her first feature that portrayed her real life story and issues she had with her parents. She was also very moved and touched, as the film was a graduate work for students where many young people gathered in it.
Best Asian Future Award: THE ISLAND FUNERAL (Thailand) directed by Pimpaka Towira
As this year’s characteristic of the selected films in Asian Future section is more than half of it directed by female directors, this winning Thai film is also the one. Receiving the award with tearful voice, director Pimpaka Towira said that she was excited and overwhelmed as the film took so long to make over many hardships. Oliver Père, jury member and Executive Director – Director of Film Acquisitions at Arte France described the film has a beauty of the landscape and adopted a unique cinematic language, and that took them (all the jury members) to space and fantasy and a spiritual world with a strong political background.
Later at the press conference Towira shared the film’s behind the scenes, that as her second feature film, there are many problems in Southern Thailand at the moment, which she wanted to portray. The casting took time because she was really looking for a Muslim actor, and at the casting process, the actress Heen Sasithorn was still in New York.
The Competition Section
WOWOW Viewer’s Choice Award: COLD OF KALANDAR directed by Mustafa Kara
Chosen by 6 jury members selected from subscribers of the WOWOW channels, the award was presented by Nobuya Wazaki, Chairman of WOWOW Inc.
The Audience Award: GOD WILLING (Italy) directed by Edoardo Falcone
‘God Willing’ is one of the Competition entry that many of the audience found very entertaining over a premise that set in the medical world, but talks emotionally about the depth of human heart.
Director Edoardo Falcone received the award and said in the press conference that his film is a very Italian film in spirit, and in comedy, beside making people laugh, irony is very important, mostly in Italian films, but the ones with the touch of intelligence. He described that Italy makes a lot of comedy films so making something different is really important.
Best Artistic Contribution: FAMILY FILM (Czech) directed by Olmo Omerzu
Upon receiving the award, director Olmo Omerzu commented that the award meant really a lot to him and all the crews. He thanked cast, as well as the dogs and their trainer Philip, and all the producers as the film was a big co-production between many countries; France, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia and Czech Republic themselves.
On the theme of a parent abandoning the child, Omerzu explained, “When preparing the script, I knew people whose parents had left them at the age of 15-16. People who read the script were criticizing the parents but I think that once you become 50-60 year old, you want to start another life for yourself. So I think the theme of this film is reality. My film was not a classic drama structure but I was pleased to see how open the audience was towards it”.
Best Actor: ROLAND MØLLER and LOUIS HOFFMAN in LAND OF MINE
Handed by the member of the competition jury Kazuki Omori who also praised the two actors as the real vehicles of the film. Said that they nailed the complexity of the characters and their desperate adversity, Omori admitted that he has the great admiration for their acting.
The Ambassador of Denmark to Japan HE Freddy Svane received the award on behalf of both of them, who appeared via video message, saying that the film did communicate a strong message that in war there are no winners.
Best Actress: Gloria Pires in NISE – THE HEART OF MADNESS
The award for the best actress was handed by Susanne Bier, saying that very rarely the jury members agree on the selection in the first 5 minutes of the meeting. Bier praised how Pires portrayed the real life character in the film smart, elegant, touching without becoming sentimental. Director Roberto Berliner received the award on behalf of Pires.
Sharing the story behind the scene, Berliner said that Pires at first didn’t read the script but her husband did and then convinced her to take the role. Pires also made the film having a bigger profile due to her popularity in Brazil and really deserved the award for how she portrayed Nise not by imitating the real one, but just expressed Nise’s intentions in her own beautiful way. To Berliner, ‘Nise – The Heart of Madness’ is nowhere near an independent film nor mainstream, but rather a medium film.
Best Director: MUSTAFA KARA in COLD OF KALANDAR
Handed by Tran Anh Hung, director Mustafa Kara who received the award said that the film had a difficult and long production over such a complex theme portraying time and the vicious cycle of life, and “There were technical issues and we were not even sure if we could deliver the completed work to this festival. But we did, and I would like to express my grattitude to the whole production team”.
Special Jury Prize: ALL THREE OF US directed by KHEIRON
Bent Hamer, who presented the award, gave his comment about the film, which also got rave reviews by many audience in the festival, “The background story is dark and hopeless, but this film is full of life and hope for the future – not only for themselves but for the community and lastly the country they moved to”.
The film was actually played like ‘Life is Beautiful’ or ‘No Man’s Land’, portraying the gritty of a country’s political history, but told in a satirical, fun and comedic way as a tribute to the director, a French comedian Kheiron – to his parents. Kheiron, who appeared in the festival apparently couldn’t stay until the last day, so the award was received by Mr. Nouredine Essadi, Audiovisual Attaché for the French Embassy to Japan, who also commented that the film really reflects issues Europe faces today, such as refugees and how people have to adjust themselves to a new life.
The Tokyo Grand Prix Award: NISE – THE HEART OF MADNESS directed by Roberto Berliner
Upon giving the award to director Roberto Berliner, TIFF’s President of the Jury in the Competition section, Bryan Singer, enthusiastically explained that the most important part of filmmaking is creating a world that’s believable, and the film has it all beyond a touch of sadness, humor and triumph.
Berliner expressed his 13 years efforts to make the film. “During those 13 years, I became tired and I had people trying to discourage me from shooting, but I also thought it was important to continue because Nise was a strong person who was a pioneer in schizophrenia research and whose team still work together today. I did a lot of research about her and schizophrenic people until they became closer to me. This relationship is what kept me going throughout the years, and I knew that I couldn’t live without this film. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote, and rewrote because Nise is such an important person who is a revolutionary figure. Only a few people know about her so it was my responsibility to show her to the world. In life, sometimes we know that we are doing something special, and I felt that way in the making of this film”.
Wrapping the awarding ceremony by confessing that the selection of the Grand Prix Award was not a quick decision but the festival was a great journey with great people, TIFF Director General Yasushi Shiina then gave his final word for the festival: “I thank everyone, the sponsors, government sectors, staff and volunteers who worked very hard for the Tokyo International Film Festival. We were blessed with great weather to hold the festival in Roppongi, Shinjuku and at Kabukiza Theatre. The Tokyo International Film Festival commenced 3 decades ago in 1985 when the opening film in the first edition of the festival was ‘Ran’ directed by Akira Kurosawa. This year, we established the Japanese Classics section, as a means to introduce our treasure, the Japanese films to the world. With Tokyo selected as the host city for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, and with increased attention to the city and the country, we will continue to contribute to promoting cultural exchange through films’.
Closed by the world premiere of Tetsuo Shinohara’s ‘Terminal’ which was adapted from the Naoki Prize-winning masterpiece from Shino Sakuragi as the closing film, this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival was attended by total 63.738 persons over 207 films screened, while TIFFCOM draws 239.561 persons and the Red Carpet, Arena and other official events at the total 145.872 persons. See you at the next festival! (dan)
all photos ©2015 TIFF
28th TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: SPECIAL EVENTS & PRESS CONFERENCES
Along with their new focus to the diverse works of Japanese Cinema, while still being a platform to increase the exposure to young filmmakers throughout Asia and especially from their country, this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) packed with special events and lots of exciting press conferences. Not only to put more highlights of the festival in its international status and well-acknowledged world movie celebration, these events and conferences, including special talk events worked as a strong ways to the exposure, where all the guests could share their thoughts to the audience, from the media to loyal fans beyond boundaries.
THE INTERNATIONAL JURY MEMBERS PRESS CONFERENCE
No less than last year’s list of jury members lead by ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, this year’s juries, led by Bryan Singer as the President of the Jury, still formed from various countries; and of course with an impressive range of festival awards and also box office successes mostly as directors or producers.
The press conference runs almost too serious in responding all the questions from the medias, still move around criterias for selecting winning films, the perceptions of a great selections in such international movie festival and each personal influences. Though so, this six members of the International jury really had good chemistry beyond Bryan Singer’s jokes through the conference, also when responded to Bent Hamer’s ‘Rashomon’- inspired premise idea of a dead man whose four ex-wives portray in different ways as Lawrence Kasdan’s classic ‘The Big Chill’ meets Zhang Yimou’s ‘Raise the Red Lantern’.
To Singer, as a high profilic director – producer of some of the most famous blockbuster franchise from ‘Superman Returns’ to ‘X-Men’, also an award quality films like ‘The Usual Suspects’ and ‘Apt Pupil’ who made him came to Japan in previous years, a great festival is a festival with a very diverse group of films, that isn’t afraid to take a variety of genres, and that isn’t pretentious. He said that how boring is a pretentious act, and tell that TIFF’s gonna be a very exciting one that spread many genres from drama, comedy, even horrors.
As this year’s TIFF selections to compete for the Tokyo Grand Prix, Special Jury Prize, Award for Best Director, Best Actress / Actor, and Artistic Contribution consists of 16 films, including for the first time in a decade – three Japanese movies, they said that Japanese films has played an important key role in their careeres and taste, from Yasujiro Ozu to Akira Kurosawa, and even modern ones.
About the influences, director Tran Anh Hung said that he was inspired by Mizoguchi, Ozu, Naruse, Kurosawa and as well Yanagimachi, Hashighuchi and Kore-eda from Japanese cinema. This too, why he directed the acclaimed adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel, ‘Norwegian Wood’, back in 2011. The legendary Kurosawa also mentioned by the other jury members, from Bryan Singer to the only Japanese jury, director Kazuki Omori. Omori said that Kurosawa-san’s ‘Red Beard’ once influenced him to go to medical school until he realized he wanted to become a film director and leaving for good. While Singer acclaimed that he had seen almost every Kurosawa’s films while studying at USC in the Little Tokyo Cinema there. He loved Japanese cinema from an early age and noted that Kurosawa was his inspiration along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Regarding the criteria of a good film, all the jury members agreed on one thing in common; films that can move and connected to them. Bent Hamer from last festival entry ‘1001 Grams’, also Norway’s official entry to the Oscar race, said that beside a filmmaker, in watching films, they’re also an audience, and not like sports, he felt it hard for films to compete in any art form.
The Oscar winning writer-director Susanne Bier added that a good movie is the one that can make you feel engaged and seduced by it. “You don’t want to forced into emotions, but you want to forget that you’re watching a movie. However, it’s a completely different platform at festivals, where the selected movies are not necessarily aimed at commercial audiences, so they can be sometimes tedious to some, but to other, fascinating”.
The other jury members that considered Japan is like her second home since she already visited Japan like hundred of times, Chinese producer Nansun Shi, explained that the connection in watching movies is very difficult to describe. Though she said, she will easily know which film that can enriches or enhances her in the right way, no matter what the genre is, the ones that moves her the most.
The most exciting thought might comes from Anh Hung, who said “For me, a good movie should has the right language to deal with its subject”, and the language he meant lies in the specific ways to tell the whole story. Omori added that he’s looking forward to see how the selected movies could convey the changes in the film industry, since the film industry itself has gone through many revolutionary changes.
The conference ended by a photo sessions over Singer’s joke to make the lineup looks like ‘The Usual Suspects’ poster. May they find the movies that can enriches, enhances and move them, as well as the one with specific language of its own.
THE 2nd SAMURAI AWARD SPECIAL TALK “IN PERSON: JOHN WOO”
From Tim Burton and Takeshi Kitano, the last year’s recipients of first established TIFF’s ‘Samurai Award’ which was given to filmmakers who continue to create groundbreaking films that carve a path to a new era, the award now handed to John Woo and legendary Japanese director Yoji Yamada. Pre-delivering the awarding ceremonial, this year’s ‘Samurai Award’ Special Talk Event featured John Woo in the same concept like last year’s event where the legendary director meets several young award-winning student filmmakers to share his thoughts and ideas in front of crowd-packed audience and the medias.
Woo, as we all known, is certainly the remarkable filmmaker that has pioneered the new benchmark in ‘80s Asian Action in modern style. All the glorified gunfights chaos that mostly throws Chow Yun-Fat to the very top of his career, slow motion – bloody violence in most police – friendship action melodrama with even more stylistic signatures that includes long jackets, black glasses, two guns showdown and even white doves, from HK genre cinema with timeless international reputations – ‘A Better Tomorrow’ trilogy, ‘The Killer’, ‘Hard Boiled’, ‘Bullet in the Head’ to Hollywood action blockbusters – ‘Hard Target’, ‘Broken Arrow’, ‘Face/Off’ and ‘Mission: Impossible 2’, all defines Woo’s incredible career before his return to Asia with more serious cultural content like ‘Red Cliff’ and the recent ‘The Crossing’ which some known as the Asian ‘Titanic’, but without ever losing the legacy and influences to nowadays action movies and filmmakers.
Held in the Academy Hills Tower Hall, Woo shared his thoughts and experience rumbling in the leading world action cinemas. Woo said that he first entered the HK film industry in the 1960s over his love to movies since he was a child. Since in ‘60s HK there were no film school, he read about movies at the library. Then, he learned to shot film, also making films not just as director but also write and produce, but never as easy as many gaps between senior and junior filmmakers in the industry. It was one of the manager of Cathay chain that first hired him as a scriptor. He admitted the influence came from Akira Kurosawa, David Lean, Sam Peckinpah and Jean-Pierre Melville. While Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ and Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ influenced him the power to represent humanity through action in storytelling, Peckinpah’s classic western ‘The Wild Bunch’ taught him about the use in violence as styles and Melville’s Alain Delon feature ‘Le Samourai’ has given the love to European police – crime genre especially where the long-coat costumes style came from.
Woo then told that ‘A Better Tomorrow’ (1986) was his turning point as an action director. Before that, many crime movies has cliche lines with black and white portrayal between cops and gangsters, but Woo approach ‘A Better Tomorrow’ (released under the straightly badass title ‘Gangland Boss’ in Indonesian theatres) differently with its phenomenal ‘anti-hero with lots of heart’ characters in giving more message or values to the content. He felt thankful to producer Tsui Hark for giving him the freedom unlike any production system worked in HK movie industry. ‘A Better Tomorrow’ which then followed by two official sequels, opened his way to even more legendary action movies, mostly marked his long-collaboration with Chow Yun-fat in ‘The Killer’ – which Woo said truly a homage to Japanese director Teruo Ishii and Melville’s ‘Le Samourai’, and also ‘Hard Boiled’.
But ‘The Killer’ is the one that gave Woo chance to fly internationally and work in Hollywood, first with Jean-Claude Van Damme as his vehicle in ‘Hard Target’ after another four years. Though so, Woo, who once impressed by the US production system, found that it’s not easy to have pure freedom in production. Unlike in HK industry where the director usually has total power over the script and other creative decisions, in Hollywood, the A-list stars has more power to change his final ideas in wrapping the movies altogether. He still finds the same problem, not rarely became a clash, in his next Hollywood movie ‘Broken Arrow’ starred John Travolta and Christian Slater and also ‘Face/Off’ which marked his second collaboration with Travolta – paired with Nicolas Cage in his golden action era.
However, he then eventually won over the conflict in ‘Face/Off’ ending and made the movie became not only his most classic Hollywood film, but also huge hit and nominated for an Oscar in Sound Editing category. That movie, produced by Paramount Pictures & Touchstone with his ex-partner Terence Chang, finally giving him the creative freedom to control everything including the final word on editing, which quite unusual for a Hollywood blockbuster and might be owned by just five directors in the industry.
Quite long after directed Tom Cruise’s franchise vehicle ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ which panned by critics but still loved by the action fans, Woo finally decided to return to Hong Kong in 2008 to take part in China’s emergence as a major film production hub. Not only he was called to receive an award at first, he always wanted to encourage young filmmakers to Chinese film industry and introduce more of China-based movies. Answering the various questions from seven young Japanese directors about his style, methodology and philosophy, Woo claimed that in his films, emotions and humanity reflections is the most important thing over actions. He also said that a movie has to convey a sense of justice, too.
But the most exciting thing was when Woo explained his action style and his choice to action genre as his biggest expression. His love for musical genre, which until now he never conceived although almost happened once, runs beyond the beauty of Woo’s remarkably stylish action scenes. Mostly in editing his actions, which Woo considered as the most important part in designing action scenes, he listens to music, especially jazz or classics, so the actions, like music or dance, could runs in the right rhythms. He said “I decided the movement, the angle, the frame, everything, by the music”. All who really knew his action signature should’ve realize more about this rhythmic things, one that made the slo-mo in gunfights moves so beautifully convincing. There also, with his love to musicals, the process to convey humanity through the violence and bloody actions could blend perfectly. “Action is only one of the methodology, but the most important thing is humanity. Action can be transform into the great power to reflect humanity and I mostly learned that from Kurosawa’s films”.
Woo still gave his time answering some questions from the audience before closing the session with his thoughts on Japanese films. He said “Maybe I’m old, but I prefer older Japanese films and that old Japanese filmmaking spirit”. After ‘The Crossing Part 2’ which just released in Asian and internationally, Woo will helm an adaptation of a Japanese novel that was previously filmed in 1976, Junya Sato’s ‘Hot Pursuit’ (also this year’s lineup in TIFF’s commemorative section) starred one of his favorite Japanese actor, Ken Takakura and reportedly will shot some of its scenes in Japan.
THE SPECIAL NIGHT EVENT AT KABUKIZA THEATRE AND THE SAMURAI AWARD CEREMONY
Continuing last year’s TIFF special night event in Tokyo’s historical Kabukiza Theatre, a Japanese distinct art that first opened in 1889 and being renovated five times since it was destroyed during the war until now, this year’s event is also filled with a dynamic Kabuki performance from Kataoka Ainosuke, one of today’s leading Kabuki actor and practitioner of the art. Playing different performance under the colorful Kumadori make-up, short play ‘Ame no Goro‘ a.k.a. ‘Goro in the Rain’comes to the Kabuki stage and captured all the audience wondefully well.
To add the excitement, there’s also a special menu provided by Kabukiza Theatre Kitchen and master chef Hidekatsu Shoji for the invited guest. Not only being a usual bento box, this is especially selected along with the theme of The Special Night. Contains over 20 signature menus, the choice was depicted the highlights of the show. A sushi rolled in seaweed was actually reflected the shape of ‘Kanjincho’ – which is the Kabuki-play source to Akira Kurosawa’s film screened in the special night, while sweet potatoes and turnips were originally from Ishikawa prefecture where the ‘Ataka Barrier’ from the movie is located.
A short ceremony then was held for TIFF’s second Samurai Award to John Woo (HK) and Yoji Yamada (Japan). The award commends the achievements of innovative, pioneering filmmkaers whose work has made major contributions to the cinema all over the world and still continues. While Yamada is widely known as the creator of Japan’s iconic Tora-san in the long-running series and also the modern Samurai Trilogy (‘The Twilight Samurai’, ‘Hidden Blade’ and ‘Love and Honor’), Woo, of course, as the remarkable director who has change and set the new standard for the ‘80s Asian Action Cinema.
Receiving the crystal statuette award from TIFF Director General Yasushi Shiina, and also joined with two of their biggest fans, actress – producer Sayuri Yoshinaga who appeared in Yamada’s first two Tora-san franchise and his upcoming film, and director Keishi Otomo from ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ that has been Woo’s fans since long, even meeting Woo in L.A. 17 years ago with an important advice he remembered until now, that to direct movies, one should also be able to write scripts. Yamada said that he’s been a part of the festival since the very beginning with the screening of his work, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ in the first edition, thus he’s so happy and very honored to receive this year’s Samurai Award. Yamada also congratulates John Woo and said that along with the samurai spirits in his movies, his films also characterized with the spirit of Woo’s films.
Presenting his speech in english, John Woo said that he felt honored to received the award along with Yamada, whom he respect and considered as a great master. Just like Woo’s effort on humanity in his films, he felt that Yamada’s films were also filled with love and humanity. “Humanity is always the one that made me fall in love with movies and decide to devote my life to making them. I will continue trying to make better movies”, Woo said.
The special night event was closed with the special screening of Akira Kurosawa’s rare – banned work before the WWII, ‘They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail’ in 35mm. The movie was based on ‘Kanjincho’, a Kabuki play that also was Ainosuke’s first performance in Kabuki theatre.
‘BORN TO BE BLUE’ PRESS CONFERENCE
As one of this year’s competition film, Robert Budreau’s Canadian ‘Born to be Blue’ was sure something to look at. Starred Ethan Hawke as the real life West Coast jazz sensation – an Elvis Presley of jazz, trumpeter Chet Baker, in one of Hawke’s finest perfomance of his acting career, the movie actually never played as a straight biopic. Instead, Budreau came with a different approach to portray Baker’s parts of life events pieces by pieces, mostly fictionized. It was indeed based on some key facts, but on the deepest layer, the movie tells a story of a musician struggling with addiction, a chance to comeback beyond a sort of sexy romance and overall, the spirit of jazz through movie-in-movie style of storytelling, which made the movie even more interesting. Carmen Ejogo co-starred as Baker’s fictional love interest.
Accompanied with the movie producer Jennifer Jonas and music composer David Braid, Budreau answered my question about how he actually describe the biopic subgenre of the movie; is it a metafiction, anti-biopic or something else? He described that as an improvisational art, he wanted to capture the spirit of jazz in the story. Based on those key facts from various source, he said that Chet Baker was actually approached by the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, Fellini’s producer, to do a movie about himself. The movie never happened, but I like the idea of pretending that it did happen. And I think using that as a stepping stone to kind of create an improvisational surreal kind of world made sense for a jazz movie. Ethan shared the sentiments with me and I think there is a certain fallacy with the purported authenticity of certain biopics. Nobody really knows what happened, even Chet Baker himself, in described the beating which he suffered as one of the central theme in our story, very differently over time. I think calling it a re-imagining of his life in the late ‘60s is how we like to describe it”, Budreau said.
About the Carmen Ejogo’s part (Jane), Budreau explained that the female character supposed to be combining all the women and wives in Chet Baker’s life into one. “So Jane clearly doesn’t exist. She was the female that Chet was starring in a movie with and I was able to focus and make the film much more of a love story – again, because Chet Baker did have a lot of women in his life. And it allowed us to explore a more universal love story in that sense”.
As for the struggle for addiction, it really something Chet Baker was infamous for, apart of his acclaimedly soulful and lyrical trumpet style. Chet mostly played his best up until the mid-50s, before the addiction. This was one part that inseparable in explaining his struggle to comeback, but they tried it in a non-judgmental way, thus can bring out his essential humanness, describing the complexity of the character. Also with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie as portyrayed in the film, they mentioned Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker a lot, too, although some of them were fictional, but Baker did mention Davis in a lot of his interviews. The point is with jazz in the ’40s – ’50s, Budreau tried to describe the conflict between East Coast and West Coast musicians during that times, and how Baker as the most popular, a good looking white jazz musicians, still tried to seek respect of the East Coast jazz black musicians by going into their music territory, as one of the key scenes where Baker played in Birdland for the first time in the ’50s.
Budreau also talked about how Ethan Hawke brought out that complexity in his role – multidimentionally as a rock-star kind of jazz musician. That he had a full six months practice of trumpet and the fingerings, resembled Baker’s looks with soft intonations – even did his own singing, and moreover, the part of David Braid who composed the whole rendition of Chet Baker’s classic used in the film.
Braid, who was a jazz pianist, added his own story behind the music. To him, ‘Born to be Blue’ was like a dream project because Chet Baker was the first artist whom the record he bought and also the most influential to him. Braid was so related to his lyrical style and felt Chet Baker’s music was a part of his musical identity from the very early age. Re-composing Baker’s music in the film, in other way, was a real challenge to Braid because not just doing re-arrangements, he also must chosen selectively and arranged them in a certain way it could be enjoyable at the same time communicate the struggle of the injured artist which was the central theme of Budreau’s idea. Luckily he has Kevin Turcotte, a Canadian trumpet artist and Ethan to made those arrangements coming alive on the screen.
One of the hardest part of ‘Born to Be Blue’ to Braid was a scene where Baker keeps failing technically in a recording session. “Kevin was so magnificent in building this scene with his expert trumpet play, and clearly – somehow, in a beautiful way, improvised it.
So just like jazz, the movie improvises. It might be a metafiction of Chet Baker’s life, but also captured the spirit of his remarkable legacies.
HELEN MIRREN AND SIMON CURTIS AT ‘WOMAN IN GOLD’ SPECIAL APPEARANCE
Presenting the movie ‘Woman in Gold’, Helen Mirren and director Simon Curtis appearing together in TOHO Cinemas Roppongi Hills. Mirren, who portrayed the real-life character Maria Altmann, a woman who battled the Austrian government over the ownership of a famous portrait of her aunt in the intriguing trial, said that introduced by her director husband, she respected many masters of Japanese Cinema such as Ozu, Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. They also joined by actor Koji Ishizaka.
More about her part, Mirren then said “When I got offered the part, my actress instinct told me, this role is a good one. On top of that, when I read this story really hit me in the chest. I was born right after the war, but I wanted to become someone who communicates the sadness of losing your family – with whom you share all the memories, and also to feel how cruel it was to lose your identity to war”.
‘THE INERASABLE’ PRESS CONFERENCE
It is quite unusual that a horror movie selected as the entry in the Competition Section. Having Yoshihiro Nakamura’s return to J-horror after ten years, ‘The Inerasable’ seems like breaking a barrier that might lies over this year’s special focus on the diverse works of Japanese cinema. The movie itself indeed contains a deep social context on the Japanese culture than just an eerie horror show; where most people in Japan still believe that the properties renting or buying might has a thing with its previous history, mostly if it’s related to mysterious deaths and uneasy spirits.
Attended by Yoshihiro Nakamura and two lead actress Yuko Takeuchi and Ai Hashimoto, they also claimed that they were slightly intimated when they received the script – based on a best selling novel, mostly because they had never appeared in a horror film before. Then again, same with Nakamura-san, they also found the premise is appealing that the story isn’t so set and offers new discoveries, as well as some new details. According to him, instead of just a horror movie, they tried to build ‘The Inerasable’ more as a mystery that requires solving than a horror story that needs to be endured.
Moreover, Nakamura also expressed his surprise that the movie had been accepted in the Competition entry list. While the usual idea of the competition films tend to be super serious, horror is supposed to be fun.
BALTASAR KORMAKUR, NAOKO MORI & JAPANESE TAKE ON EVEREST IN ‘EVEREST: SUMMIT OF THE GODS’ PRESS CONFERENCE
This year’s ambitious survival – disaster blockbuster ‘Everest’, directed by Baltasar Kormákur also had its 3D screening in Special Screening section. Appeared in the press conference with actress Naoko Mori who portrayed Japanese climbing veteran Yasuko Namba, who’s hoping to complete her last of the Seven Summits on its true event, they shared their experience on making ‘Everest’. From the challenging weathers and overcoming fears where some notable Hollywood actors, as Kormákur said, tried to leave the production along the way, he tried to make every scenes in ‘Everest’ as real as possible.
But the more interesting thing in the press conference is that Kormákur and Mori weren’t the only spotlight on ‘Everest’ because Japan, through Kadokawa Pictures, also made their take on the Everest mountain-climbing adventure. Based on the 1998 novel by Yumemakura Baku who also wrote the script and then became manga series ‘Kamigami no Itadaki / The Summit of the Gods’, the film, titled ‘Everest: Kamigami no Itadaki / Summit of the Gods’ followed Fukamachi (played by Junichi Okada), a Japanese photographer who finds a camera supposedly belonging to George Mallory, a mountaineer who went missing on Mount Everest. Solve the mystery whether Mallory became the first person to successfully climb Everest on June 8, 1924; long before the Kormákur’s ‘Everest’ took places, goes on a mountain-climbing adventure along with the legendary isolated Alpinist Habu Joji (played by Hiroshi Abe).
Attending the press conference, where they also screened 6 mins behind the scenes and the trailer of the movie, were the producer Hideyuki Hirayama, Tsuguhuki Kadokawa from Kadokawa Pictures and scriptwriter (also the writer of the source novel) Yumemakura Baku. Shared their thoughts on the making of the movie, Hirayama said that at first, he was actually scared of heights, but after reading Baku-san’s script, he felt this movie will be really challenging and then decided to go on. To make it as real as possible, they even set to do shots in Nepal and Mount Everest, climbed up the mountain with large risk along with the actors and actresses who had the same spirits to make it happen.
The movie scheduled to be release in next March, was also the first Japanese movie shot in Mount Everest, and some of the box office money will be donated to the people of Nepal.
THE WORLD OF GUNDAM
Following last year’s special focus on Japanese animation with the special program ‘The World of Hideaki Anno’ and his phenomenal ‘Evangelion’ in Toho Cinema Nihonbashi, this year’s festival aim at one of the greatest – monumental work of robot animation that ran for 36 years and has been shown in more than 25 countries. ‘The World of Gundam’ screened all 26 installments of the franchise including theatrical naimation, TV series and short films from the first 1979’s ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’ directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino to the latest 2015 ‘Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin I Blue-Eyed Casval’.
This epic tale of a universe in which an era of cosmic battles is expanding and a group of young people joins in the terrific mobile suit robot war also had created a splash among world’s toys and plastic model of ‘Gundam’, with total volume of sales products released is approximately 445 million units until now. The franchise is actually a pioneer in robot animation genre that followed by many franchises after.
Screened in Shinjuku’s Toho Cinemas (Shinjuku Wald 9, Shinjuku Picadilly & the new Toho Shinjuku), some screening featured special talk with each directors including Yoshiyuki Tomino himself; who considered the theme of ‘Gundam’ is still relevant until now; and also the special original filmstrip souvenir for all the attendees.
THE GIRL’S HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCE
‘The Girl’s House (Khane-ye Dokhtar)’, Iran entry in the Competition might be quite an important film to look at. The 2014 Iranian production, directed by Shahram Shah-Hosseini, marked the continuous banning of film in Iran over sensitive topics. Over the premise of the death of an Iranian bride-to-be that unfolds like a mystery by her friends investigations, the film deals with important issues that still facing Iranian women until now.
According to the news, conservative medias have slammed the film for the modernized visions against traditional family values. The film also faced intense attacks from conservative circles when it was screened for the first time in Fajr Film Festival. Director Hosseini, who attended the press conference with the lead actor, Hamed Behdad, admitted the film might felt critical as an implicit criticism of Iran society, but it also posed a very big questions. The point is he didn’t want to judge anything and rejected any accusations that the film is against Iranian or Islamic morals. Behdad then clarified that in over the Iran revolution he thought they’re actually moving forward in a positive way, in the hope to strike a balance in the future.
They also answered the question about the film’s enigmatic title. Though they didn’t really reveal, but they expressed ‘the house’ in the title could represent a girl’s very intimate territory that needs an approval to enter. Moreover, about the film’s plot, Hosseini added that in Iran, family, religion and human relationships – caring for each other – is extremely important. And from a Muslim perspective, suicide is a sin. The film highlights a tragedy that might be specific to Iranian, but carries a universal message of how a life, or rather, the end of life, affects all who are left behind.
THE SCREENING OF ‘RAN’ & ‘SHANE’ IN DIGITAL REMASTERED EDITION
Along with the screening of Akira Kurosawa’s classic masterpiece ‘Ran’ in 4K digital restored for both picture and sound to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary after first screened in the first edition of the festival in 1985, this year’s TIFF also held a special symposium on the digital remaster process.
The classic 1953 western, George Stevens’ ‘Shane’ starred Alan Ladd also received a digitally remastered treatment for its first screening in Japan. The film was never screened in Japan cinemas since it was released. Author Go Osaka and film critic Saburo Kawamoto conducted a special talk show after the film screened in Toho Cinemas Shinjuku. The film, that set in the plains of Wyoming in the frontier period, was actually quite a pioneer in the themes of a hero that fought for a family, mostly in western genre.
Kawamoto expressed his thought about how ‘Shane’ had a different kind of charm from other western at the time it was released. “It’s a love story, as well a family story that has lots of female fans. Westerns up until that point had been pretty macho, but Alan Ladd, which not a tough-guy character, and the whole film is portrayed through the eyes of 9 year old child, in a soft manner”, he explained. He also said that as a different western, ‘Shane’ stands after the passage of time, and even though it was softer, the duel climax was still has sufficient features as a question.
While Go Osaka pointed Jack Palance performance as a bad guy, ones that created the typical bad guy role for him ever since, was really frightening. He said that Palance’s performance was appealing to the audience on a deep psychological level. On praising George Stevens, he then said that no matter how many times he watched the movies, there is always something new to discover.
J-HORROR NIGHT EVENT : THE HAUNTED HOUSE EXPERIENCE
As one of Japanese Cinema’s hottest contents beside animations, this year’s festival also celebrated the J-Horror that featured the works of 3 famous horror maestros; Hideo Nakata, Takashi Shimizu and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. 4 movies to be screened are Hideo Nakata’s latest ‘Ghost Theater’, his 1996 horror ‘Don’t Look Up’, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 1997 psycho suspense masterpiece ‘Cure’ and Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On’ that has created local and international franchise ever since.
Held in Shinjuku Piccadilly on the 28th over Japan’s unique Halloween atmosphere, the J-Horror Night Event also featured special talk and one day only Haunted House (Obake-yashiki) installation at the theatre. The special talk session is attended by Hideo Nakata, Takashi Shimizu, actress Haruka Shimazaki & Rika Adachi, actor Keita Machida and the producer of Haunted House Hirofumi Gomi. (dan)
all photos ©2015 TIFF