The oldest international film festival in Japan, TIFF, had its 19th edition in Tokyo, October 21/29, 2006. In spite of the fierce competition of Korea’s Pusan (see report above),  TIFF remains an important event in Asia, even though the competition fims (15 this year) are not always “on the level” (the Grand Prix Sakura , doted with 100000 US$, went to the pleasant and stylish French movie, OSS 117, Cairo, Nest of spies, by Michel Hazanavicius, which is only a brilliant parody of an old French version of James Bond!). However, among the several parallel sections, one has a great opportunity to catch up with the latest local films, with “Japanese Eyes”, as well as the rarest and oldest classics, with a full retrospective of great director Shohei Imamura (who left us in May, aged 79), a programme of “the best of Kon Ichikawa”, whose latest opus, Murder of the Inugami Clan, was shown as the closing film, as Ichikawa turns 91 (!), and the usual treasures brought in the ever-fascinating section of “Nippon Cinema Classics”, including a rare period operetta, “Samurai musical”, made by Masahiro Makino in 1939!

Among the most interesting films shown in “the Japanese Eyes” section, we can point out the latest film by Shinji Aoyama (Eureka), Crickets (Koorogi), an enigmatic and  symbolical piece more or less linked to the tragic slaughter of the Japanese Catholics in the XVIth century, which shows how sharp Aoyama can be, when he is not too pretentious, as in the previous Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani ? (God, God, why did you abandon us?), made in 2005. Ryuichi Hiroki’s newest film, “M”, is an interesting, if quite unpleasant, portrayal of the sexual inferno in the too modern, too rich, Japanese society of to-day, with a kind of morale. Actor Eiji Okuda’s third fim, A long walk (Nagai sampo), which won the main prize in Montreal, deals with an old man (played quite remarkably by Ken Ogata), who decides to “kidnap” a mistreated little girl, to save her from a shameless mother, and who ends up in jail.A bit overlong, but quite moving, and far better than Okuda’s previous film, Runin. However, the most moving film of the section was a documentary made  by American female dircetor, Linda Hattendorf, The cats of Mirikitani, about an old American-Japanese painter whom she found on the  streets of New York, brought to her place, and helped finding an apartment, as well as his own “lost” sister, long after they were sent to the internment camps during WW2. The competition offered two Japanese films, Awaking, by Junji Sakamoto, an interesting piece about a dead man’s secrets, and The Mastugane potshot affair, the new film by Nobuhiko Yamashita (Linda, Linda, Linda!), an hyper-realistic, static and provocative story of murder and gold in the Japanese country side. The other most interesting section , Winds of Asia, provided a panorama of (very) uneven Asian films, with a rare focus on new Malaysian cinema, and a special homage to female director Yasmin Ahmad (Gubra, Mukshin, Rabun, Sepet), who give sus a personal look at the problems of Malaysian youth to-day.

If not as strong and powerful as Pusan, and not as sharp and “auteurist” as the smaller Tokyo Filmex in November, the TIFF has still many things to offer. Its unconvenient aspects, however, are that it’s geographically split between the huge Roppongi Hills complex, and the more pleasant Bunkamura in Shibuya, and also that its seat reservation system would like to make us believe that ALL screenings are full, when in fact they are NOT, if you care to show at the theaters…Otherwise, you can always benefit from the legendary and authentic Japanese sense of hospitality and welcome, that is if you strictly stick to the rules! Let’s look forward to the 20th edition, in November 2007, which might be a stronger one.