a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #1

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It’s a brisk fall day in Tokyo. Hitting the street from the Yurakucho station, one can witness Tokyo-style urbanism at its finest. By the doors of the Bic Camera store, hawkers and gawkers congregate. Thousands bustle in and out of the giant department stores and tiny shops that coexist in this urban nexus. Under the tracks are a long line of restaurants, funky cheap and pricey fine – Chinese, Thai, Japanese, French, and more.
To the west of the train line stands the International Forum, architect Rafael Vinoly’s brilliant contemporary edifice that demonstrates that great buildings accommodating commercial desires and public needs in one fell swoop can still be made. Just beyond the very well-liked public atrium, in one of the Forum’s massive halls, Tokyo Filmex commences quietly with an afternoon screening of To Each His Own Cinema, a sweet and sprawling omnibus film reflecting a who’s who of international directors’ takes on cinephilia. It’s an appropriate opening film. Hot on the heels of the glitzy and grandiose Tokyo International Film Festival, Filmex is the fest where the serious film-goers go.
For example, TIFF opened with Francois Girard’s big and ponderous (dare I say ‘panderous’) Silk, poised to jump into the Japanese multiplexes shortly after its film festival premiere. And TIFF also brought the first Japanese bow of The Simpson Movie –a fine film and one can make the case for Matt Groening being one of America’s best film auteurs, but really! Great film festivals are about discovery, though far too many are merely cogs in the big promotional machine. Now, if they had shown the never-seen Matt Groening/Mark H. Smith collaboration when they were students at the Evergreen State College, that would be a festival coup!

But enough of sniping at TIFF. Tokyo Filmex is the subject at hand. Begun in 2000 by Office Kitano – that’s Beat Takeshi’s company – Filmex quickly positioned itself as the “serious” big festival in Tokyo, a place where one could see the true cutting edge films from world cinema. And they’ve largely lived up to their calling, breaking early works by the likes of Guy Maddin and Jia Zhang-ke (who’s blistering new doc on the clothing business, Useless, played today and as Film Comment’s new issue suggests, it needs US distribution – it’s that amazing), on director retrospectives (this year focusing on Japanese director Yamamoto Satsuo and long neglected, but immensely important Bengali director, Ritwik Ghatak), and highlighting new Asian cinema. This year shows some great promise in premiering new work by 19-year old Hana Makhmalbaf, (yet another talented offspring of great Iranian director, Moshen Makhmalbaf), Tsai Ming-liang collaborator, Lee Kang-sheng’s first feature; and Haitian director Michelange Quay’s debut.

And where was Beat Takeshi, anyway? The only sighting of him was in the opening sponsor commercial for a new “healthy” yogurt product. His dyspeptic look on screen belies the health promotion, but perhaps it’s all tongue-in-cheek. Still I don’t think I’m buying the product on his recommendation. But I sure like the festival he’s promoting.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 18, 2007 at 2:51 am

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