Award-winning movie director Takeshi Kitano said Friday that the very mention of the word Italy brings to mind the kind of culture that puts present-day Japan to shame.

Takeshi Kitano (right) speaking at the Festival del Cinema Italiano 2001 news conference

“It seems like a bit of a joke me being here,” Kitano said at a news conference to launch the Festival del Cinema Italiano 2001, which opened Saturday in Tokyo as part of the ongoing “Italy in Japan 2001” festival.

“Just mention Italy and the image that immediately comes into my head is one of culture and art. It’s a bit different than Kawasaki, which merely evokes an image of soaplands. It gives me a complex and makes me feel embarrassed,” joked the comedian-cum-director, whose Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 for his movie “Hana-bi” earned him an invite as guest speaker at the conference.

Edoardo Winspeare’s “Sangue vivo,” lauded at the San Sebastien Film Festival, is touring Japan.

Four of the 11 Italian filmmakers whose works will be screened at the festival were also in attendance for the launch. Screening at 10 cities across the nation, the festival program will showcase some of the new talents of recent Italian cinema, covering a wide variety of issues and genres, from a poignant love story (“Con gli occhi chiusi”) to a remake of a Greek tragedy staged during the war in Sarajevo (“Teatro di guerra”) to a lighthearted take on a real-life Palermo mafioso (“Tano da morire”).

Mario Martone, whose 1998 film “Teatro di guerra” opens the festival, said the directors were keen to break commonly held stereotypes of Italy.

“Today’s Italy is not yesterday’s Italy. It is a country that is facing up to an extremely uncertain future. The works in this film festival reflect that,” he said.

Luciana Castellina, president of Italia Cinema, which promotes Italian movies overseas, added that the festival was an excellent opportunity for Japanese to take a look at the wealth of young talent in Italian cinema today.

“The figures associated with Italian cinema by most Japanese are the likes of Sophia Loren and Visconti. . . . I don’t want people to think that cinema culture in Italy stopped [with them],” she said.

The young breed of directors and actors on show during the festival, which include Francesca Archibugi, Edoardo Winspeare and Maya Sansa, she said, could well become the next Lorens and Viscontis.

Castellina said both Japan and Italy are suffering due to a lopsided international cinema culture.

“The reality is that the majority of people are watching Hollywood movies, and only a few of the limited number of movies made within [other countries such as Italy and Japan] are making it to overseas movie theaters,” she said.

“This is particularly true in Asia and Europe. Movies screened in Italy from countries other than [the U.S.] make up less than 1 percent.

“If this situation continues, the variety and differences that are the very heritage of the human race are at stake,” she stated, adding that she hoped the festival would help raise awareness and break the trend.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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