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France celebrates Japanese culture with huge eight-month festival


France has opened the largest celebration of Japanese culture ever to take place abroad.

The eight-month festival Japonismes 2018 features everything from prehistoric art to what the organizers bill as Europe’s first virtual reality concert.

“It’s the largest extravaganza of its kind ever held outside Japan,” said its director, Korehito Masuda.

The most famous sites in Paris will become windows to Japanese culture. The Eiffel Tower will be lit up in the colors of the Japanese flag for the first time in September, and artist Kohei Nawa has installed a monumental hanging gold throne in the pyramid of the Louvre museum until November.

Other events across France aim to show the immense global influence of the Land of the Rising Sun.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Japanese culture has influenced generations of French artists from Monet and the impressionists to the present.

France also is the biggest overseas market for manga.

“The French, more than all of the other nations, know Japanese culture best,” said Masuda.

Another highlight of the season, whose €30 million ($35 million) budget is being entirely met by Tokyo, is the virtual reality concert. Hatsune Miku, whose name means “the first sound of the future,” is a 3D singer created with virtual reality technology. Miku has already filled stadiums in Asia and North America with her manga-influenced style, and will take to the stage in Paris in December.

“We wanted to show the continuity of Japanese tradition up to the present day through the integration of traditional art and technology,” Masuda said.

An interactive child-friendly exhibition in Paris immerses visitors in a wonderland of samurai and the bucolic Japanese countryside created by Hayao Miyazaki for his animated classics such as “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” juxtaposed with an 11-meter-high virtual waterfall that moves in step with visitors’ feet.

Japanese cinema also comes under the spotlight, with a retrospective for the country’s best-known female director, Naomi Kawase, famed for her documentary “Embracing,” about her search for her father, who abandoned her as a child.

The high-profile events are a part of Japan’s cultural offensive against the rising star of neighboring China, which is making major strides to modernize its own artistic output.

France competed against Russia and Spain to host the season. It won, the organizers said, because of its obsession with all things Japanese.

The festival, subtitled “Souls in Synergy,” seeks to strengthen the cultural ties between France and Japan as the two nations celebrate 160 years of diplomatic relations.