Capturing audiences’ hearts

Faruq Bostaman

Japanese romantic comedy Hold Me Back was announced as the winner of the 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Audience Award during a closing ceremony at Roppongi Hills on Monday.

The film, which features Japan’s popular young actress Non, tells a story about 31-year-old Mitsuko who is dependent on an imaginary counsellor in her head. It focusses on Mitsuko’s dilemma when she falls for a younger man, providing insight into the inner struggles of working women in modern-day Tokyo.

Hold Me Back was based on a novel by Risa Wataya, winner of Japan’s prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize.

Director of the film Akiko Ohku said, “I’m honoured to receive this award for the second time.”

Her film adaptation of Tremble All You Want, another of Wataya’s novel, won the Audience Award at the TIFF in 2017.

She has been involved in mentoring young filmmakers in the TIFF Teens programme and has also served on the TIFF Japanese Splash jury.

‘Hold Me Back’ director Akiko Ohku and actress Non at the closing ceremony. PHOTOS: TIFF
A scene from Hold Me Back

Asked how winning the award feels the second time, Ohku said, “What’s the same is the joy that I felt, imagining the faces of the audiences who voted for the film, as well as the faces of the cast and crew who worked hard on it.

“But three years ago, I took it for granted that everyone could go to the cinema to watch the film.

“This year, due to COVID-19, so many things have happened that have affected audiences as well as filmmakers. I feel especially privileged to receive this award at this time,”.

“I am grateful to the audience who came to watch the film and voted,” said Ohku.

Non was also present to receive the award. “I know there is an Audience Award every year at this festival, but this year it is the only award, so I would like to thank the audience for choosing this film,” she said.

Tokyo Vice Governor Mitsuchika Tarao also presented Ohku with the Governor of Tokyo Award, and read a message on behalf of Governor Yuriko Koike, saying, “I wish to congratulate the director and her cast and crew for winning the Audience Award.

“The artistic and cultural activities of our country were deeply affected by COVID-19, but I’m delighted that the festival was able to hold a physical edition. When the world is confronted with a common crisis, the power of films becomes important to creating a brighter future.”

A total of 138 works, selected from 1,356 titles from 107 countries and regions, were shown in Tokyo during the festival’s 10-day run. However, unlike previous years, there were no international competitions due to difficulties in having overseas jury members and guests to attend.

Festival organisers instead launched a brand new Tokyo Premiere 2020 section showcasing 32 films from around the globe, from which audiences were asked to select a film.

The festival also showcased online discussions among directors from Japan and other parts of Asia under a newly created Asia Lounge Conversation Series co-presented by the Japan Foundation Asia Centre.

Since the TIFF was launched in 1985 as Japan’s first major film festival, it has shone a spotlight on exceptional films and filmmakers from around the world and is one of Asia’s most competitive film festivals.