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Tokyo International Film Festival 2017 and the Asahi “Katte ni Grand Prix” Award


As with YIDFF 2017, this was my first Tokyo International Film Festival in eight years. I have never been that much of a fan of the TIFF, and often criticized it back when I was writing for the Daily Yomiuri (even my report in 2009 was largely critical). The TIFF was too close to the industry to have a truly independent selection, was becoming more of a contents market, and has largely abandoned its Japanese retro section, even though that should be a major role of supposedly the largest film event in Japan. Its insistence on being in the same category as Cannes and Venice means its competition will only show world premieres, even though most of the major films have been taken by more famous festivals. Still, its Asian section is well done (programmed by Ishizaka Kenji, who was on the Nihon eiga wa ikite iru editorial board with me), and the Japan Splash sidebar can occasionally introduce a good, unknown new Japanese film.

The TIFF 2017, which was its 30th edition, ended up being an opportunity to see the festival in a new light. It didn’t start off well when the festival rejected my press application, even though I applied on the same conditions as the last time (the TIFF does not accredit film academics, like the YIDFF or FILMeX do). But at the last minute, Ishitobi Noriki of the Asahi Shinbun contacted me about participating in their ratings panel. The “hoshitorihyo" is something they started last year: a panel of five experts watches all the films in the TIFF Competition, rates them, and writes short reviews, which appear on the online version of the Asahi (you can see them here; click on the film to see the reviews). The new results are uploaded every day during the festival. This year the panel was Hata Sahoko (a film critic and the person who bought Godard’s Breathless for Japan—and thought up its great Japanese title: Katte ni shiyagare), Sugino Kiki (a film director and actress), Koga Futoshi (a film programmer and professor at Nihon University), Ishitobi, and myself. 

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2017

Even though I once worked for the YIDFF, this year’s festival was my first since 2009, so my first impression one of nostalgia. Seeing the same old places, meeting old friends, drinking at Komian, basking in the intellectual atmosphere of the festival. This year’s festival had many great moments, but I also felt the YIDFF also needs to look back a bit more at the past.

I had some obligations, especially helping my wife a little at the Daily Bulletin (I penned a short piece for them looking back on its history, since I worked there during the 1993 festival). So I couldn’t see everything I wanted to. I saw a few non-Japanese films, and was particularly impressed with John Gianvito’s Wake (Subic) (which shows some significant influence from Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s work) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, but I focused mostly on Japanese films. Unfortunately, there weren’t many that thrilled me.

Possibly the most interesting were Yamashiro Chikako’s works, The Beginning of Creation/A Child and A Woman of the Butcher Shop, which were showing in New Asian Currents (which I programmed back in 1995). Both were originally installation pieces and would be hard to call documentary under a traditional definition (Yamashiro-san told me this was in fact the first time her works had been shown in a movie theater). The first was a record of Kawaguchi Takeo’s effort to literally draw out and emulate Ohno Kazuo’s dance; the second a more narrative exposition of gender and occupation in Okinawa (I have to keep this in mind if I ever update my article on representations of Okinawa). While both exhibit a strong, and often political concern for the body, if not also a desire to return to origins (the sea, the same cave in both), the two are also very aware of mediation, to the point of thinking about the materiality of digital video.

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