An intro to Tokyo’s film fest

by Mark Schilling

The Tokyo International Film Festival, Japan’s biggest, glitziest film fest, opens Saturday, Oct. 21, and runs for nine days at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills in Roppongi, Bunkamura in Shibuya and other venues around the city. The selection is huge, beginning with the four main sections: the Competition, Special Screenings, Winds of Asia and Japanese Eyes. Where to begin?

First of all, you are unlikely to find last-minute tickets for opening and closing films (Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” and Kon Ichikawa’s “Murder of the Inugami Clan”), as well as the opening eve and opening night films (Yoji Yamada’s “Love and Honor” and Lee Jun Ik’s “King and the Clown”). Many of the Special Screenings are also hard or impossible to get into at the last minute, especially ones at which stars are scheduled to attend.

These, however, are mostly commercial films that will be at your local multiplex in a week or a month anyway. If your tastes are more eclectic than the latest Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) or Juri Ueno (“Rainbow Song”), your choices are wider. (To see how much wider, check the TIFF site at www.tiff-jp.net/en/ ).

For Asian and Japanese film fans especially, TIFF offers a rare opportunity to watch both new and classic films with subtitles — with the usual irritating exceptions, of course. The Animecs Japanese animation festival, which debuts this year, will screen only a handful of subbed prints, including the opening film, Kon Ichikawa’s “Paprika.” Ticket buyers beware.

One section guaranteed to screen only subbed prints is Japanese Eyes, which features 13 new Japanese films, from both acclaimed auteurs like Ryuichi Hiroki (“M”) and Shinji Aoyama (“Crickets”) and newcomers like Kazuki Omori (“Those Were the Days”) and the section’s only foreigner, Linda Hattendorf (“The Cats of Mirikitani”).

The Competition section, also with all subbed prints, will screen “The Matsugane Potshot Affair,” a comic suspense by “Linda, Linda, Linda” director Nobuhiro Yamashita, and “Awakening,” a drama of marital revelations by Junji Sakamoto, but tickets to this section tend to go quickly, especially for hot titles like the U.S. comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” and the Cannes festival sensation “Two Thirty 7.”

Fans of classic films will have much to choose from: Beginning with retros from Shohei Imamura, the two-time winner of the Cannes Grand Prix who died in May; Seijun Suzuki, who is celebrating his 50th year as a director; and Kon Ichikawa, the 91-year-old veteran whose “Murder of the Inugami Clan” will close the festival.

Another must-see for film history buffs is the Nippon Cinema Classic section, which will present seven samurai films featuring iconic stars of the genre, including Masahiro Makino’s delightful, all-singing “Samurai Musical (Oshidori Utagassen)” from 1939 starring Chiezo Kataoka.

For Asian film fans, Winds of Asia is one section to get lost in, with 37 films and including a special program of Malaysian films, and Focus: First Cuts, a program of films by new Asian directors that is a project of Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau and Focus Films.

As its name implies, the Rising Directors from China section is on a similar theme: eight films by young Chinese directors. Unlike Winds of Asia, this section offers no subtitles, however.

If your head is swimming from four films a day and you need a break, head over to Akihabara for the Akihabara Enta-Matsuri, a nine-day festival of Japanese pop culture featuring stage events and the aforementioned Animecs festival. A good chance to pick up anime, games or character goods on your Christmas list — or just go otaku watching.

Rubberneckers can also check out the directors and stars this Saturday afternoon at Roppongi Hills, where they will be making their grand entrance on a red carpet on the street behind the Roppongi Hills Arena. No tickets are required, though access to the arena itself its restricted. This may be your one chance to see Clint Eastwood in the flesh — but no guarantees.

There is much, much more, including the Tokyo International Women’s Film Festival, Minato Screenings (family films presented by Minato Ward), Korean Cinema Week 2006, and TAM Tokyo Asia Music Market (live performances by and video clips of Japanese and Asian artists).

And if you miss the whole thing, there’s always the Tokyo International Cine City Festival — a four-day fest from Nov. 23 to 26 that screens new Japanese and foreign films, including Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” and Martin Scorcese’s “The Departed,” at the Milanoza theater in Shinjuku. But try to rouse yourself first for TIFF. Clint might be waiting.