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Tokyo Festival 30th Edition Opens on Continuity Note

Tokyo Festival 30th Edition Opens on
REX/Shutterstock

The Tokyo International Film Festival held the opening ceremony for its 30th edition at the Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills main venue on Wednesday.

The festival is the first for new director Takeo Hisamatsu. But there is a note of continuity in the festival’s strong anime emphasis. That is borne out by a special sections dedicated to on animator Keiichi Hara. There are others on Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh, a Godzilla cinema concert, and a gala screening and Kabuki performance at the Kabukiza theater.

The main events, however, are the nearly 200 films set to screen, beginning with opening night film “Fullmetal Alchemist,” Fumihiko Sori’s live-action adaptation of a hit fantasy comic. The festival will concluding next week with the Al-Gore-hosted documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the closing night film.

American actor Tommy Lee Jones, set as president of the competition jury, was on hand. Jones is an icon in Japan for not only his films but also for appearing in a series of popular canned coffee ads.

On stage at the opening ceremony, Jones noted that festivals like Cannes and Venice are venues for the buying and selling of films, including the “Pacific Rim.” “When I first heard Pacific Rim I thought they were talking about a geological formation,” he joked. Jones added that Asia, including Japan, is “not on the rim of anything” and that he was happy to be at a festival that celebrates “the emotional and intellectual sides” of film.

Aside from Jones, the festival and the red carpet are short on Hollywood star power this year. The Japanese industry as a whole is having a less-than-stellar year, in fact. How much that is due to Japanese consumers’ newfound taste for streaming video is unclear.

Powerhouse producer and distributor Toho has yet to find a box office follow-up for last year’s smash hit animation “Your Name,” which earned $355 million worldwide. Its biggest hit so far this year is the action comedy “Gintama,” which has made nearly $30 million domestically and $12 million in China following its September release.

Political relations are always tricky. But both China and South Korea have become less friendly towards Japanese films in particular in recent years, due to rising political tensions. Though latterly, as China’s political relations with Korea have worsened, China-Japan relations may be improving. “Your Name” and the latest “Doraemon” have both been substantial hits in China in the past 12 months.

One of the pre-opening highlights was Wednesday morning screening of an extended trailer-cum-making of for “The Legend of the Demon Cat,” known as “Ku-Kai” in Japan. The film is a very large-scale Japanese-Chinese co-production, directed by China’s Chen Kaige and adapted from a Japanese novel about a golden period in Chinese history. It releases in China in December, and in Japan in February.

The clip was screened again as part of the opening ceremony.  Chen, still in post-production, sent a video message, while members of the cast, including stars Xuan Huang and Shota Sometani, greeted the crowd.

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Courtesy of New Classics Media

Thursday the festival will host a major seminar on Chinese Japanese film industry relations. But matters could easily be blown off their improving course by Japan’s shift to the political right – and its political class’s assertiveness about contentious historical issues. The chief architect of that shift, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, did not attend the festival opening, but sent two ministers instead.

Abe had been making regular appearances at the festival since beginning his second stint in the nation’s top office in 2012, but has high level matters of state to attend to. Since his ruling Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide election victory on Monday, Abe has been preparing for the upcoming visit of Donald Trump, as well as an upcoming ASEAN Summit in Manila.