The Tokyo International Film Festival, running through Oct. 31, is no longer Asia’s biggest or most important festival — that honor is now claimed by the recently held rival Busan film festival. But its 27th edition — the first to reflect the full influence of TIFF’s current director-general, Yasushi Shiina — has both a new hub in the Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi theater complex and a new focus on a made-in-Japan genre: anime.
Speaking with foreign journalists on Oct. 20, Shiina said, “I think one of the key contents that we can showcase to the world is Japanese animation. It’s very strong and powerful. If we asked our audience what kind of films they want to see the most at TIFF — whether a world premiere or an Asian premiere — it would be animation.”
For English-speaking non-Japanese fans, TIFF offers a rare opportunity to see theatrical screenings of both new and classic anime with English subtitles. Many Japanese live-action films in the Japan Cinema Splash section (indie films mostly by younger directors), Special Screenings (films scheduled for a fall or winter release) and other sections will also be subtitled. Even Japanese film and anime otaku (obsessed fans) who are fluent in Japanese will probably make fresh discoveries in the festival’s wide-ranging lineup.
The anime headliner this year is director Hideaki Anno, the creator of the “Evangelion” sci-fi franchise, whose works — from his student animations to the first three entries in the new “Evangelion” tetralogy — are being celebrated in “The World of Hideaki Anno,” which unspools at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi during the festival. Curated with input from Anno himself, the retrospective will probably be packed, with tickets for some shows distributed by lottery and others available from TIFF’s website.
Among the anime titles in the Special Screening section, one surrounded by buzz is “Garm Wars: The Last Druid” by Mamoru Oshii, creator of the seminal “Kokaku Kidotai (Ghost in the Shell)” sci-fi franchise, beginning with the 1995 hit film of the same title. Made with a combination of CG and live-action technologies, “Garm Wars” unfolds on an alien world at war, with a story about three pilgrims on a dangerous journey to their planet’s holy land.
Another Oshii project being screened at TIFF is episodes of “The Next Generation: Patlabor,” the live-action reboot of his classic mecha anime (“robot animation”) about robot cops piloted by human officers. In addition to producing 12 planned series episodes, each about 48 minutes long, Oshii is directing a full-length “Patlabor” feature to be released in 2015.
Anime fans also have high expectations for “Gekijoban: Shingeki no Kyojin Zenpen — Guren no Yumiya (Attack on Titan: The First Part),” the first of a two-part sci-fi film by Tetsuro Araki set in a dystopian world where giant humanoid creatures called Titans devour humans who happen to cross their path. Based on a hit manga by Hajime Isayama, the “Attack on Titan” franchise has spawned the usual TV anime and video games, as well as light novels, which have in turn been adapted for manga series. As if this weren’t enough, a live-action film is on the way, set for a 2015 release.
Still another TIFF anime feature continuing a popular series is “Appleseed Alpha,” Shinji Aramaki’s prequel to his 2004 sci-fi/action animation “Appleseed.” Based on a comic by Shirow Masamune, the original film was set in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by humans and genetically engineered clones called bioroids. There was also a sequel, “Appleseed Ex Machina” (2007), again directed by Aramaki.
The new film, which follows the adventures of a female soldier, Deunan Knute (voiced by Luci Christian), and her cyborg-partner Briareos (David Matranga), begins in what remains of New York City following a 22nd-century world war. Don’t expect the traditional hand-drawn look of classic Japanese anime: Released on DVD and Blu-ray in July, “Appleseed Alpha” was made using motion capture and CG techniques, with a look that falls between animation and live action, if not into the infamously creepy territory of the “uncanny valley.”
Not all anime at TIFF is otaku-targeted sci-fi. The festival is presenting a special program of three anime shorts featuring Pikmin, cute creatures that are a hybrid of plant and animal. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto — the Nintendo game-wizard responsible for the “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda” games — Pikmin first appeared in a Nintendo game of the same name released in 2001. Miyamoto will appear at an Oct. 25 talk event to discuss his films, games and fabulous career.
Another TIFF offering for the very young (as well as their Hello Kitty-loving mothers and older sisters) is “Kurumiwari Ningyo (The Nutcracker),” a stop-motion animation made to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty maker Sanrio. The film centers on a girl who ventures into a fantasy land to rescue her doll, not the company’s iconic girl cat. Director Sebastian Masuda has worked as an art director for J-pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who supplies the film’s theme song.
However, the animation with the festival’s most prestigious slot — the opening film — is not Japanese, but Disney’s “Big Hero 6” (released in Japan as “Baymax”). Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, the film depicts the relationship between 14-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro and his robot companion Baymax. Though influenced by Japanese culture — Hiro’s city is called “San Fransokyo,” a portmanteau of San Francisco and Tokyo — the film is based on a comic book by Marvel Comics of the same U.S. title.
Unlike nearly all the robots in the Japanese anime showing at TIFF, Baymax was designed to be both huggable and inflatable. Tickets to the TIFF screenings on Oct. 23 are already all spoken for, but the film will be released in Japan on Dec. 20. Whether inflatable Baymax dolls will be on the shelves by then, I have no idea.
A brief visitors guide to TIFF
How can I buy tickets?
A standard adult ticket is ¥1,300, available through Ticket Board, a mobile ticketing service. Get in quick, some films have already sold out. Tickets to the “Film Treasures from The MoMA” screenings at the National Film Center can be bought at the reception desk of the nearby National Art Center on the day of each screening.
Where are films being shown?
TIFF has expanded from its usual Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills venue to also include Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Cinemart Roppongi and the Kabukiza Theatre.
What about subtitles?
Most films are subtitled in English, but check TIFF’s website for details about specific screenings and translations at Q&A sessions. Films with French and Thai dialogue will be subtitled in both Japanese and English.
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