This year's Tokyo International Film Festival opened Oct. 22 to great fanfare--literally.
The 24th TIFF, titled "Believe! The Power of Film," opened to the sound of trumpets with "The Three Musketeers," a 3-D remake of the classic swashbuckler. Jackie Chan's action flick "1911" was the joint opener. Stars from both movies took to the TIFF's customary green carpet, made out of recycled plastic bottles, rolled out on Keyakizaka street in Tokyo's Roppongi district.
However, things looked more gray than green when a thunderstorm threatened to call off the opening ceremony.
But then the skies cleared, and after only a 30-minute delay, the cinematic creme de la creme were striding down the runway.
Milla Jovovich and Paul Anderson, the actress-director, husband and wife team behind "The Three Musketeers," followed a troop of musketeers carrying an airship--one of the more "modern" props in the new interpretation.
Chasing the last of the rainclouds away were the colorful Fukushima Hula Girls, who star in a movie of the same name. They danced along the carpet to the booming sound of tropical music.
This year's festival almost didn't happen, according to chairman Tom Yoda, out of respect to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, with support from the international film community, the committee decided that holding the festival would be a more positive gesture than canceling it.
In addition to the usual sections of the festival where unreleased films are screened there is a section titled "Overcoming Disaster" at this year's TIFF.
This includes a film about the aforementioned Fukushima Hula Girls, who hail from Iwaki, one of the hardest-hit cities in the March 11 tsunami. Using the power of dance to cheer up their community, the girls' optimism and energy are inspiring.
Elsewhere, the nuclear disaster is touched upon, as with "Land of Oblivion," which tells the story of residents of Pripyat, a town just 3 kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. While plumes of radioactive smoke billow through the air, a wedding party continues on, oblivious to the danger.
With echoes of the current situation in Fukushima, the movie may be difficult for some to watch, as it drags up questions about the long-term health effects of radiation exposure.
Energy shortages this year pushed ecological issues into the headlines, yet they have long been a focus of the TIFF since its inception in 1985. A permanent section called "naturalTIFF" this year includes documentaries on indigenous people in Siberia, and environmental activists.
"Leadership," which tells the story of a group of French farmers who stop their government from extending a military camp, might be an inspiration for those taking a stand against, say, the Japanese government's nuclear policy or its handling of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
Although there is a wide selection of domestic movies in "Japanese Eyes," including a musician's post-quake reflections in Tetsuaki Matsue's "Tokyo Drifter," the festival has a strong pan-Asian flavor.
Actress Kiki Sugino, hailed by the festival as the "Muse of Asian Indie Cinema" for her work with Korean and Malaysian filmmakers, is the star of no less than six movies at the festival.
"There are currently lots of movies coming out of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines," she said in an interview at the opening. "Films bring countries together, so rather than making movies only directed at domestic audiences, I think Japanese filmmakers should look toward Asia, while Asian filmmakers as a whole should appeal to international audiences more."
The lineup of movies extends well beyond Asia, however, with movies from Iran, Turkey, Mexico, Greece, Sweden and elsewhere. The selection runs the gamut of genres, from arthouse, horror, mystery and comedy.
"Japanese Salaryman NEO," about a beer company's bizarre promotion efforts, is sure to provoke a few laughs, while the uplifting "Mitsuko Delivers," about a pregnant woman who remains optimistic despite having no home, no job and no husband, shows that happiness is a state of mind.
Although a string of public events were canceled after the earthquake, organizers hope the festival will both entertain and inspire.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed a sentiment with which audiences immersing themselves in the silver screen this week would no doubt agree:
"Films are important because they move people and change lives."
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