27TH TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL : SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON JAPANESE ANIMATION (PART 1)
27TH TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL : SHINING A SPOTLIGHT ON JAPANESE ANIMATION (PART 1)
Becoming a longtime dream of Yasushi Shiina, the new director general of Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) since 2013, the festival took the big step in its 27th edition this year, with a special focus in animation. The idea of spreading wider awareness in animation genre as one of the biggest part in Japanese entertainment industry through the theme of the festival was not an easy way, though. The crucial point is how to showcase anime films with the bigger impact than any festivals have gone before, and to wrap it along with other selections in the vein of the festival all these years, as one of the largest international film festivals throughout Asia.
Playing an important key role to make it happen was Toshio Suzuki, the chief producer and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. Having long experience in one of the largest and most well-known Japanese animation industry, Suzuki helped Shiina to accomplish this idea. Instead of just putting more anime films in the festival lineups, they choose one iconic person in the industry to represent this culture. Hideaki Anno, the professional animator behind ‘Evangelion’ and many well known animation works including Ghibli’s films, filled the festival with this year’s most highlighted retrospective event, ‘The World of Hideaki Anno’, which screened over 50 films over his succesful carreer. To maximize the experience, ‘Evangelion’ gigantic character figure unit-01 (2m height), ‘King Joe’ and diorama of Tsuburaya production will be displayed at Toho Cinema Nihonbashi with the screening of ‘Ultra Seven’ HD remastered 2.0 edition.
TIFF also put another name, Shigeru Miyamoto, senior managing director of Nintendo and known as the father of ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘Donkey Kong’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda’ with the screening of his ‘Pikmin’ shorts along with other animation movie like ‘Appleseed’, ‘Attack on Titan : First Part’, ‘Doraemon’ and episodes of ‘The Next Generation Patlabor’ to welcome the upcoming live-action version of the famous animation.
And Disney’s ‘Big Hero 6’ (titled ‘Baymax’ in Japan theatrical release) world premiere is a fortunate coincidence to actualize this special focus on animation as the theme of the festival. With the huge success of ‘Frozen’ throughout Japan, they wanted a Disney movie to open the festival. Luckily, ‘Big Hero 6’ is like a Disney’s special gift to Japanese reception of ‘Frozen’, too, where the elements was built over John Lasseter’s love to Japanese culture over the years. Combining both culture on animation, ‘Big Hero 6’, as seen from the trailers, have many recognitions of Japanese anime and other cultures.
Moreover, they even held the special event in the 2nd day of the festival, which took place in the EX-Roppongi Theatre and concert hall, where John Lasseter did a special talk show titled ‘Cool Japan’ as in Japan’s strategy in their entertainment industry. Telling his fans a lifelong story on how his successful career and works all these years was influenced over his admire to Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Lupin III’, many elements of ‘Totoro’ and other Japanese culture that also was seen in his previous movies like ‘Cars 2’, Lasseter presented over one hour of awesomeness in this special event.
The Red Carpet Event
Opened the event, the TIFF’s red carpet, like the previous years, was held in the Roppongi Hills arena. The event commenced with the appearance of Festival Muse Japanese actress Miki Nakatani, festival navigators Harry Sugiyama and Azusa Okamoto, and the surprise appearance of ‘Arashi’, one of the most prominent artist group in Japan, as the festival ambassador. Along with some musical and culinary events introducing nowadays trend in Japan, the appearance of this group consists of multitalented singer and also actors was meant to reach wider awareness to the festival.
The red carpet then rolled by the appearance of the jury members, actors, actresses and film staff from around the world, animation characters, also many young Japanese independent filmmakers who got selected in Japanese Cinema Splash category and Japan Foundation’s Crosscut Asia : Thai Fascination section doing photo sessions, meet their fans and signing autographs. Like John Lasseter said, ‘We are so excited to be here. Konbanwa, Tokyo International Film Festival!’
The Opening Ceremony
Attended by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Senior Vice Minister and secretary in charge of intellectual property and Cool Japan strategies, Masaki Taira & Yohei Matsumoto, and member of Japan House of Representative Tatsuya Ito, the opening ceremony began with the speech by Arashi, which appointed as the national tourism advisors and showcasing Japanese entertainment culture ever since. They hoped that their appearance could convey such qualities to the many guests from abroad at TIFF with the spirit of Japan’s hospitality (omotenashi).
Like in the previous years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe then appeared on stage explaining that they asked Yashishi Akimoto, the renounced producer of the festival to ask multitalented artist Takeshi Kitano who will receive the first Samurai Awards with director Tim Burton to take part in this year’s TIFF, in the hope to promote the coolness of Japan to the eyes of the world. With the increasing numbers of tourist last year and welcoming Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Olympics, he also hoped TIFF will grow into the leading film festival in Asia, as the gateway for young directors and anime filmmakers, all in the part of Japan’s part in sports, culture, art and technology.
Members of the jury, which like an unlikely pairing ever in the movie festivals, then introduced on the stage. Director James Gunn (president of the jury) spoke on behalf of the other jury member Robert Luketic, John H. Lee, Eric Khoo, Japan owned Hiroshi Shinagawa and casting director Debbie McWilliams that they are so excited to take the part in the festival and received the great honor to choose films that have an essence of truth in the main selection theme of cornered people against various causes from political to other matters.
And to present the opening film ‘Big Hero 6’, producer John Lasseter and Roy Conli, director Don Hall and Chris Williams, Walt Disney Animation Studio executive vice president Andrew Milstein and voiceover actors Kotaro Koizumi & Miho Kanno, expressed their joy of being able to have the world premiere of the movie in Tokyo and how the film was based on many inspirations from Japanese people and culture as a love letter to Japan. Director Chris Williams said that they took pictures and made sketches to represent Japanese sensibility and aesthetics with a feel of sensitivity behind the movie’s fictitious main set, San Fransokyo. Lastly, John Lasseter wrapped up the ceremony to commence the opening screening and also the festival with the message : ‘May you see amazing films, may there entertain you, inspire you, and fill your heart with warmth’.
Tokyo Cinema Cuisine
Aside of increasing the number of venues to the TOHO Cinema Nihonbashi and Kabukiza Theatre, to spread more recognitions on the festival in one pack of culture shows, an event combining movie experience with culinary attraction also held in the Roppongi Hills Arena, with 5 kitchen cars and one drink bar in the center of Roppongi Hills..
Named ‘Tokyo Cinema Cuisine’, this event hopefully will attract the audience and other guests by serving special menus created by five leading chefs in Japan. Mamoru Kataoka (Ristorante Al Port), Shinji Kanesaka (Kanesaka) and Yosuke Suga (Suga Labo), three of those five chefs (Nobuyuki Matsuhisa and Yuji Wakiya were the other two) appeared on the Roppongi main stage to explain their original menus made especially for this year’s TIFF.
PALE MOON (2014, Daihachi Yoshida, Japan)
As the only film represents Japan in this year’s competition category, ‘Pale Moon’ is an adaptation from a novel by Naoki Prize-winning author Mitsuyo Kakuta. Directed by award-winning director Daihachi Yoshida, the film tells a story about Rika Umezawa (played by Rie Miyazawa, award-winning actress from Yoji Tamada’s ‘Twilight Samurai’ and Kazui Kuroki’s ‘The Face of Jizo’), a lonely housewife tangled in large embezzlement over her affair with a university student (played by Sosuke Ikematsu) and fraudulent case at works.
In the surface, ‘Pale Moon’ might looks just like an erotic thriller about an adultery wife – tired plots. But beyond the exquisite directing from Yoshida and the almost perfect acts and chemistry between Miyazawa and Ikematsu, ones that really triggered our deepest sense over some key scenes, lies a stronger theme of a woman’s struggle seeking for liberation against many aspects and conventional expectations among Japanese society.
RUINED HEART : ANOTHER LOVE STORY BETWEEN A CRIMINAL & A WHORE (2014, Khavn De La Cruz, Phillipines – Germany)
Known as a multitalented singer, songwriter, pianist, poet and filmmaker and being considered as the father of Phillipine digital filmmaking, Khavn De La Cruz has been around in many international fim, music and literature festivals, even taking parts as jury and festival director. His artsy experimental showcase over a hundred shorts since 1994 also made him one of the most punk rock filmmakers beyond the shambolic atmosphere.
Expanded from the 2012 same-titled short which was the first Phillipine entry to Berlin International Film Festival’s official selection, ‘Ruined Heart’ tells a story about a merciless hitman (Tadanobu Asano) rescues a prostitute (Nathalia Acevedoas) from a violent in Phillipine slum. This full length feature version also has the same tone as most Khavn’s other works, which felt more like a really wild punk – opera built with nightmarish and chaotic visuals. However, here, with the presence of Christopher Doyle’s cinematography and Japanese famous actor Tadanobu Asano, the distinctive experience of his digital filmmaking felt more intriguing. See it if only you love the wildly experimental filmworks.
1001 GRAMS (2014, Bent Hamer, Norway-Germany-France)
Known as Norway’s humanist comedy, Bent Hamer’s ‘1001 Grams’ felt much lighter than the title or even the metaphor of life values. Lies on the story of Marie (Ane Dahl Trop) who works in the weights and measures institute and has to replaced his terminally ill father Ernst (Stein Winge) on an international conference where the prototype weight of national kilos needs to be transported to Paris, with a little love story, the touch of art films was a bit too soft and slender over more exciting and rare informations of weights and measures institute.
THE GOLDEN ERA (2014, Ann Hui, China – Hong Kong)
As an ambitious work from director Ann Hui, ‘The Golden Era’ is a biopic of one of the most influential female writer, Xiao Hong (played beautifully by Tang Wei in her finest performance) in Chinese modern literature. The way Hui told her story among various direct-to-camera narrators was a daring approach beyond the lavishly impressionistic looks of the movie.
It’s obviously colored with Ann Hui’s kind of pace, but the first half had a little issue character focus through its overlong duration. However, the rest was much better in the emotional approach, built the epic journey – feel in Xiao Hong’s influential part through her short life becomes stronger.
BIG HERO 6 (2014, Don Hall & Chris Williams, US)
Inspired by the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, ‘Big Hero 6’ is Disney’s Lasseter love letter to Japanese culture, from animation to other aspects. Set in the fictional metropolis named San Fransokyo, a well built crossover between San Francisco and Tokyo, a 14-year old robotic genious Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) had to face his destiny as a team of inexperienced crime-fighters with Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Fred (T.J. Miller), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), and a robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit), the only thing his loving brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) left for him.
Over some controversies between Disney and Marvel in the company acquisitions, as a much anticipated Disney animated fantasy, ‘Big Hero 6’ is surely a fun and quite emotional packed entertainment. But aside the sets creation and a little Japanese Anime – melancholy in the dramatization that worked at best, the blend on combining two countries’ animation culture to shape the characters was sadly not as balanced. And so was the script, written by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Jordan Roberts, that seem a little lost to put the right balance between characters. However, the production values, the hi-tech computer-animated and all the technical efforts have created something as big as any gigantic animated blockbusters. (dan)