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Tokyo Film Festival: Makoto Tezuka Probes Past and Present in ‘Barbara’

The son of the late Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “the god of manga” in Japan for his innovative and enduringly popular comics, Makoto Tezuka (also known as Macoto Tezka) long ago escaped his father’s looming shadow, carving out a career as a film and animation director. At the same time, he has been a guardian of his father’s legacy, supervising the release of his work and holding a stake in Tezuka Productions, the animation house his father founded.

Tezuka has recently been enjoying a professional resurgence, with a remastered version of his 1985 debut feature – the pop musical comedy “The Legend of the Stardust Brothers” – playing the international festival circuit. Also, his new film, the fantasy/romance “Tezuka’s Barbara,” will premiere in competition at the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival.

Based his father’s cult manga “Barbara,” the film features Fumi Nikaido (“Fly Me to the Saitama”) as the title character — an alcoholic, seductive, mysterious muse to a self-hating bestselling writer (Goro Inagaki, formerly of the pop mega-group SMAP).

“Its selection for the competition surprised me, frankly,” Tezuka told Variety. “A lot of my films are a bit strange and offbeat.”

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In telling his story, which in the manga is set in the 1970s, Tezuka updates it to the present. “It would have been a huge hassle to make it as a period piece,” he says. But otherwise he remains faithful to its romantic spirit. “It’s a simple love story,” he says. “The biggest difference between then and now is that everyone now is carrying around mobile phones,” he says.

To prepare for the film, Tezuka read not only the “Barbara” manga, but also researched its source material: “Stories by E.T.A. Hoffman,” The Jacques Offenbach opera “The Tales of Hoffman,” and the 1951 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film of the same title. “My father was probably most influenced by the film,” he says. “When he made it into a manga he changed the story a lot.”

Key to creating the film’s mood of being suspended between fantasy and reality is cinematographer Christopher Doyle, an Asia-based veteran best known for his work with Wong Kar-wai. “First of all, he’s great at shooting cityscapes,” says Tezuka. “And he also photographs people beautifully. Finally, he loves alcohol and the two main characters love it too, so it was a good match that way as well.”

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