Covering a film festival is what’s known in the profession as a crapshoot. No matter how many screenings you manage to clock, you’re probably going to miss half of the flicks that end up winning prizes.
For casual moviegoers attempting to navigate Tokyo International Film Festival, it’s harder still. Top-tier directors tend to take their work elsewhere — not least to the other TIFF, held in Toronto in September — so many of the movies on offer are basically unknown quantities.
Feeling lucky? Your ¥1,500 ticket might get you a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s more likely to yield the kind of film that could sympathetically be described as “interesting.”
That was the most appropriate epithet for a lot of this year’s main Competition entries. Edmund Yeo won the best director prize for “Aqerat (We the Dead),” which I found riveting for the first hour and downright baffling for the final 40 minutes. More perplexing still was Govinda Van Maele’s erotic suspense “Gutland,” a macabre joke in search of a decent punchline.
Takahisa Zeze’s sympathetic portrayal of the adult video industry in “The Lowlife” would have been more convincing if the director hadn’t resorted to softcore erotica himself, while Asghar Yousefinejad’s cannily staged drama “The Home” was marred by a twist ending more befitting of a daytime soap opera.
On the other hand, Guillaume Gallienne won me over with the loopy, sometimes brilliant “Maryline,” and there’s no denying that star Adeline D’Hermy was a worthy recipient of the festival’s best actress prize.
The hit rate in the indie-focused Japanese Cinema Splash section is even lower than in the main Competition, but that’s also where I discovered my favorite film of the festival.
Hikaru Toda’s “Of Love & Law,” which ended up winning the section’s prize, is a documentary about a pair of openly gay lawyers whose firm represents a variety of human-rights causes, including “vagina artist” Rokudenashiko and an Osaka teacher disciplined for refusing to stand during the national anthem.
A movie about how Japan is failing its minorities ought to be a downer, but Toda’s protagonists, Kazu and Fumi, are terrific company, and their warmth seeps through the film. Their battle against a rigidly conservative society may be ultimately doomed, but they left me with a sense that love will win in the end.