Festival Ambassador for this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, Hashimoto Ai is an inspired choice for the role and not only because she is an A-list actor who has starred in hit TV series (“Amachan”) and worked with internationally acclaimed directors like Nakashima Tetsuya (“Confessions”) and Yoshida Daihachi (“The Kirishima Thing”).
She is also a certified film nerd, who has proclaimed her love of everything from 1970s “pink” (softcore adult) classics to low-budget indie films made by her contemporaries, which she sees in theaters, not on her smartphone.
Now 25, she has a career going back to 2009, when she made her screen debut as basketball-loving deaf girl in Mori Ho’s “Give and Go.” Speaking to Variety prior to the line-up press conference for TIFF,
Hashimoto said that from then to now she has seen windows of opportunity opening up in the Japanese film world. “Anyone can make a film now,” she says. “It could be an old man or an old woman or even an elementary school kid. There has been less a changing of the guard from a previous generation to a new one than a steady expansion of opportunity – that’s really important, I think.”
Meanwhile, TIFF has provided Hashimoto with a platform for her work and, in 2020, invited her to speak at a talk event with Korean filmmaker Kim Bora. Did she accept the Ambassador job to pay back the festival for past favors?
“There was a bit of that, yes,” she says. “I do have a strong connection to the festival. They’ve shown my films and I’ve gone to a lot of screenings as an audience member. It been a wonderful experience for me. So when I was asked to be Ambassador my feeling was ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ I’m looking for ways to make my own contribution (to the festival).”
She has a strong interest, she says, in helping “the roots of film and traditional culture to expand and grow.” “I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to do that,” she adds. “I hope to find out what I can do by listening to the people I meet at the festival.”
Meanwhile, Hashimoto has been expanding her own activities to music, making media waves by singing tunes by singer-songwriter Ringo Sheena at a concert in Tokyo this May. “I just love singing, so I’m happy to be able to do it,” she says. “When I was acting, I used to feel that if I made one mistake, it was all over for me. I was under that kind of pressure in every scene and it made me really tense and tired. But by singing I can expand my range of expression. It also helps me relax so I can act better. I’ve been able to get closer to my ideal performance. It’s been a big plus for me.” She did not say, however, whether she planned to be TIFF’s first singing ambassador.