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Tokyo Festival Opens With Heightened Sense of Japanese Tradition, Purpose

Unfolding while Japan simultaneously hosts the Rugby World Cup, recovers from the recent Typhoon Hagibis, and prepares for the upcoming Olympic Games, the 32nd edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival got under way Monday, with a strong sense of Japanese tradition and heightened conservatism compared with previous years.

That feeling was reinforced by last week’s enthronement of a new Emperor, which launched the beginning of the new Reiwa Era, and by the five-woman, kimono-clad ensemble that welcomed guests at Roppongi’s Grand Hyatt Hotel with traditional shamisen, flutes and drums. (International guests included Alicia Vikander, Aaron Kwok and Miriam Yeung.)

The Reiwa Era means: “A new era for Japan and Japanese films,” said festival director Takeo Hisamatsu from the stage. “We have built the program to present the best of Japanese films to the world.”

This year the festival debuts a new section on Japanese animation, as well as a focus on Nobuhiko Obayashi, a pioneering experimental filmmaker in the 1960s whose debut fantasy/horror feature “House” became a global cult sensation decades after its release.

The opening film was “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here,” the 50th installment in the Tora-san comedy series by Yoji Yamada. Now age 88, Yamada made the first episode with late star Kiyoshi Atsumi in 1969.

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“Tora-san, Wish You Were Here” played mid-afternoon at the nearby Toho Cinema in Roppongi Hills. And Yamada was on hand to usher on stage six actors who appeared in the original series. The most recent “Tora-san” film was way back in the 20th century, some 22 years ago.

Actress, Alice Hirose, designated officially as the “festival muse,” was on hand to guide guests through the different festival sections. She revealed the new TIFF Plus Tech section, being presented with Japanese telecoms giant NTT Docomo. The program is set to give more audiences a chance to experience virtual reality.

Kocihi Hagiuda Japan’s Culture Minister, said that the festival’s three key mantra were: “expanding, empowering and enlightening.” That is a mission statement announced last year, and it suggests that the 32nd edition of the festival also cherishes a degree of continuity, too.

The competition line-up will feature a combination of festival favorites from Venice and Toronto, and world premieres that hail from Asia and Japan.

The competition films will be judged by a jury, headed by China’s Zhang Ziyi, which was led out towards the end of the short and sweet ceremony. Most hewed to the conservative theme and wore black, though Zhang accessorized with a collar of dazzling sparklers.

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi poses for photographers during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Film Festival in TokyoInternational Film Festival, Tokyo, Japan - 28 Oct 2019
CREDIT: Koji Sasahara/AP/Shutterstock

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