On March 5, tickets went on sale for Joe Hisaishi’s concert at a 1,200-seat theater in Udine, Italy — and they were sold out in less than a week. In Japan, where Hisaishi is well known as a composer for his soundtracks to films by Hayao Miyazaki, Takeshi Kitano and many others, this rush for tickets would be expected. But for a town in Italy’s northeast with a population of 100,000 it’s completely out of the ordinary.

Scheduled for April 23, the concert will be a splashy opener for the 17th edition of the Udine Far East Film Festival — and would have been unthinkable when the festival held its first edition in 1999 with a program of Hong Kong films. In those days, Hisaishi in particular and Asian films in general were largely terra incognita to Italy’s film fans and media.

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