‘Light, camera, action’ in dark days

Faruq Bostaman

“We believe in the power of films, even in this difficult time, and wanted to keep the beacon of film lit by holding the festival physically,” said Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) Chairman Hiroyasu Ando during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Forum in Hibiya on October 31.

The festival – in its 33rd installation – kicked off with a scaled-down indoor red carpet event, with strict safety measures. Several physical screenings, and question-and-answer sessions are held in Roppongi while some symposia and talks are held online to accommodate overseas filmmakers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event organisers created a special section for this year that goes beyond the boundaries of its usual competitive sections. The Tokyo Premiere 2020 will combine the international competition, Asian Future (featuring up-and-coming Asian directors who have directed no more than three feature-length films) and Japanese Cinema Splash (featuring films displaying originality and a willingness to take on new challenges from the burgeoning category of Japanese independent films) sections into one line-up.

Over 100 films, including 32 titles for the special Tokyo Premiere 2020 section – eligible for the TIFF Audience Award – are screened at Roppongi Hills from October 31 to November 9.

The 32 titles are – Underdog, Abu Omar, After Love, Alaya, Apples, Ashes on a Road Trip, The Bike Thief, Come and Go, Company Retreat, Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots, Fan Girl, February, First Job, Forgiveness, Hold Me Back, Jang-Gae: The Foreigner, The Last Bath, Light of a Burning Moth, Love Song 1980, Malu, The Man Who Sold His Skin, Moral Order, Mr Suzuki: A Man in God’s Country, No Choice, The Old Town Girls, Possessor, Sasaki in My Mind, Slate, Sweat, That Was Life, Titi, and Zokki. The winner will be announced on the final day.

An orchestra performing at the opening ceremony. PHOTOS: TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Guests at the event

Following the launch, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama, British-American film director and filmmaker Christopher Nolan and director of the Cannes Film Festival and the Lumière Film Festival Thierry Frémaux were among those who provided video messages for the opening ceremony.

Kajiyama said despite the pandemic, films such as Today It’s My Turn had been able to open in theatres and became a major hit in Japan, stressing the resilience of the film industry and the audience’s devotion to cinema.

Meanwhile, Nolan said, “The fact that in these challenging times you’ve found a way to honour and enjoy watching films on the big screen is a source of inspiration to myself and other filmmakers around the world. Maintaining the excitement around the big screen experience, not just for fans of movies in Japan but for film lovers all over the world, is extremely exciting.”

This year’s Festival Ambassador Koji Yakusho, internationally acclaimed actor of Shall We Dance and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Third Murder, said, “I know that this festival will be quite different from all the others. We must all take precautions, but I think we can still have a really good time. It’s wonderful to be able to see all the films on the big screen. We don’t know what will happen in the future, but we should try very hard to sustain film. Certain films, like documentaries, can change the time. I think the power of film is enormous. As for the Audience Award this year, I think it’s a really good thing to involve audiences in the important decision.”

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. However, holding a film festival in the same way as in previous years proves to be a challenge due to restrictions on international travel and measures against the pandemic.

The event organisers believe that by staying physical, audiences will be able to re-experience the joy of watching films on the big screen, and strengthen international solidarity in the global film industry and re-examine understanding of visual culture after COVID-19.