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Hokkaido town chills out with film festival

by Mizuho Aoki

Hokkaido has more than just skiing and snowboarding on offer this week.

It’s the 20th year for the Yubari International Fantastic International Film Festival (now run by nonprofit organization Yubari Fanta), which has seen the likes of Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper and Quentin Tarantino as participants. Launched in 1990 as a project to revitalize its economy by promoting itself as a resort town, the festival has attracted many people, receiving over 27,000 visitors at its peak in 2004.

However, after the city declared bankruptcy in 2006, Yubari withdrew from the film-festival business. Two years later, with help from film fans and locals, the festival was restarted and drew around 8,000 people. In 2009 it attracted more than 10,000 people.

This year, the event will be held Feb. 25-March 1, with 69 films showcased, including Oscar nominees such as Kathryn Bigelow’s war drama “The Hurt Locker,” Lone Scherfig’s coming-of age story “An Education,” Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller “District 9″ and Disney’s latest animated feature, “The Princess and the Frog.” Other mainstream films include Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” in which Robert Downey Jr. plays the famous private detective.

The festival also provides a chance to catch the latest in Japanese cinema with English subtitles. Among the films on offer are Hitoshi Yazaki’s “Sweet Little Lies,” and actor Shun Oguri’s directorial debut, “Surely Someday.”

Also, don’t forget to join the “Stove Party” held on Feb. 27 outside the city hall from 6 p.m. Yes it’s cold, but many regular festival-goers are looking forward to this outdoor barbecue and sake party where you can meet locals, other film fans and also filmmakers.

“The Yubari Fantastic International Film Festival” takes place Feb. 25-March 1 at places around Yubari, Hokkaido. Tickets to screenings are ¥1,300 and Yubari Fanta Passports (you can see all the films except for the opening and the closing films) are ¥2,000. Tickets can be purchased in advance through pia (pia.jp/t), or at Family Mart and Circle K. For a full schedule, visit yubarifanta.com