Tokyo: Jury Members Riff On Japan, Judging, Jetlag

With jury chairman Bryan Singer claiming both jetlag and a hangover from the opening night party, the omens for the Tokyo International Film Festival’s mid-morning jury press conference Friday were not good.

But the six jurors gamely rose to the challenge of answering the inevitable question of what criteria they will use to choose the best film of the competition.

“The film needs to keep me awake,” quipped Singer.

“It is a question mostly of taste,” said Norway’s Bent Hamer.

“I want the movie to enrich or enhance me, after I’ve viewed it,” said venerable Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi.

So far so general. But, unlike some other festivals which have increasingly packed their juries with camera- and sponsorship-friendly celebrities, Tokyo has enlisted a team of professionals – producers and directors — with a strong film knowledge and a sense of exploration.

To get Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung’s vote a film will have to be told correctly. “A movie has to have the right language for its subject, no matter what the genre,” he said. Asked later whether social or political themes could sway him, Tran was adamant: “No, it is only the language that matters.”

“I want to be engaged, or seduced by a movie, not raped, or forced into emotions,” said Susanne Bier. “One of the pleasures of being a jury member at festivals is being able to watch movies that are not necessarily aimed at commercial audiences.”

Director, Kazuki Omori, who admitted to feeling under pressure as the only Japanese member of the judging panel, said: “When you look back at the 30 years of this festival it has spanned revolutionary changes in the film industry, everything from multiplex cinemas to digital. I want to see how filmmakers from other countries are coping with these changes.”

The possible Japanese influence on the film-making careers of the jurors was another standard question that evoked some predictable responses as well as other, more insightful, answers. Japan’s classicists Kurosawa, Ozu, Naruse, Mizoguchi were quickly cited as references by several of the jurors. But their relevance today was cited by an amusingly bumbling Hamer, who said that he recently dragged along a screenwriter friend to a screening of “Rashomon” in order to demonstrate story-telling from multiple viewpoints within a single film.

Striking too, was the influence of early contact with the great film makers. Singer said that he met actor Toshiro Mifune in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district when he was a film student. Shi recalled an encounter with Kurosawa in London, when she was still a schoolgirl. “Despite his age at the time, I remember his saying ‘I’m still learning every day’.”

Shi and Singer, however, rekindled the banter when Shi threw in Toho’s early “Godzilla” movies as another cherished childhood memory.

“You have to remember that for 300 million Americans ‘Godzilla’ is Japanese cinema,” said Singer.

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