a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #10 – wrap up

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Tokyo Filmex wrapped on a glorious Sunday. While much of Tokyo was out shopping and enjoying the sunny weather, a large group of diehard cineastes were at the Yurakucho Asahi Hall or at the National Film Center catching the last few films on the program.

Fillmex runs for nine days. It’s not as huge as the Tokyo International Film Festival. In fact, it’s a small, but very well curated festival. The competition section highlighting new Asian cinema contained 10 films. The Special screening section represented 10 films of cutting-edge international directors. And 2 special director retrospectives, one screening 12 delightful discoveries by postwar generation Japanese film director, Yamamoto Satsuo, another rescuing from the vaults 4 masterpieces by Bengali director, Ritwik Ghatak. That makes for 36 films, 37 if you count the extra short film, Ten Years, that played with Jia Zhang-ke’s Dong.

Though they didn’t have the numbers at hand, chatting with some staff members, I was assured that this was the best attended festival of their 8 year run.

Sunday at noon a press conference was held and the prize-winners were announced. The jury included Dorothee Wenner, from the Berlin Film Festival; Christian Jeune, from the Cannes Film Festival; film director Yukisada Isao; cinematographer Yamazaki Yukata; and Korean film director and jury head, Lee Chang-dong. Lee’s impressive and moving feature, Secret Sunshine, was also the closing film of the festival.

And the winners were…

The bearish and soft-spoken Lee gave the announcement. The 2nd place Special Jury Prize, which was $8,000 worth of Kodak negative film was given to Yau Nai-hoi and his feature debut, Eye in the Sky. Personally, not being a fan of the film, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt in that it was a solidly made entertainment.

The Grand Prize, 1,000,000 yen, and that’s about $10,000, went to Tehilim, a touching parable set in contemporary Israel. The disappearance of a father sets the plot in motion for a series of repercussions that brings personal dramas and a larger look at humans cast adrift in the world. Director Raphael Nadjari and producer Fred Bellaiche were on hand to accept the award. Nadjari was endearingly surprised and a bit inept at his acceptance speech.

The Audience Award of 200,000 yen went to Hong Kong stalwart, Johnny To and his new actioner, Exiled. In good To style, it’s a gripping crime drama that never lets up. And it’s got a great shoot ‘em up ending that had everybody holding on to their seats.

One bit of late breaking news is that Filmex is planning to publish a book of photography about Tokyo as seen through the eyes of film directors. They invited the young and talented Hana Makhmalbaf, whose feature debut, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame to become one of the guest photographers.

Personal reveries from the festival include the Tokyo premiere of Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain. As a personal disclaimer, I used to work for Northwest Film Forum, which helped produce the film. But nonetheless, Maddin’s delirious masterpiece probably left more than a few heads scratching, but I’m sure they left the theater realizing that they’d never seen anything quite like that before – and hopefully hungry to see what else may bubble up from Maddin’s fervid imagination. Hey, I felt kind of proud.

And then there was the discovery of Yamamoto Satsuo’s work. His Zatoichi film is available in the US – and it is one of the best directed of the many Zatoichi films – but it was a rare opportunity to see films by this neglected master of Japanese cinema.

There were the late night discussions with friends and collaborators at smoky izakayas, where deep (and somewhat drunken) recaps of the day’s screenings were the order of business.

There was the genuinely thrilling discovery of new cinematic talent by the likes of Hana Makhmalbaf and Chinese director Yu Guangyi and his film Timber Gang.

Which brings up an exciting trend of new documentary from China. After the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and seeing new docs at Filmex by Jia Zhang-ke, I’m convinced that there’s something happening in the middle kingdom around the art of documentary filmmaking. Keep your eyes open.

All in all, Tokyo Filmex was a great ride. I’m looking forward to edition number 9.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 27, 2007 at 3:03 am

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