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Kyoto gears up for a film festival — rain or shine

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

It may be a spring chicken compared to its film festival siblings in Tokyo, Yamagata and elsewhere, but the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival has reached an important milestone: its fifth anniversary.

The countdown to No. 5, which takes place from Oct. 11 to 14, officially kicked off at a press conference in Kyoto on Sept. 3, a day before Typhoon Jebi pounded the region.

Rain seems to be something of recurring theme: In an opening speech, Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa noted that during last year’s festival, he attended a screening during a heavy rainstorm and “assumed no one would be there. But the seats were packed!”

The mayor also mentioned another theme that seems to run though the festival: the fact that Kyoto is sometimes referred to as “Japan’s Hollywood.” Many of the country’s early film studios were founded there, and the city still serves as the setting for many jidaigeki period pictures.

To that end, it’s fitting that the festival will feature the world premiere of “Tajuro Jun Aiki,” a jidaigeki epic helmed by director Sadao Nakajima. “Tajuro Jun Aiki” is the first film in 20 years for the 84-year-old Nakajima, who also serves as the honorary chairman of the festival’s executive committee.

On stage at the press conference, Nakajima described the film as a return to the epic chanbara swordfighting style of films for which he is known. He also made the connection to the city clear, stating the film features “the power of Kyoto filmmaking.”

The festival hails the return of a master, but it also features plenty of fresh talent. That includes Kyoto-born director Ujicha (who goes by one name) and his film “Violence Voyager,” an over-the-top splatter film shot using a style of lo-fi animation called “gekimation.” On stage, Ujicha revealed he created the entire film virtually by himself.

As the name implies, the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival also features art, with exhibitions held throughout the city. Kenta Oka, the festival’s art planner, explained that this year, he wanted to bring the film and art sections of the festival closer together. That inspired an exhibition at Kyoto Arts and Crafts University that will feature student-created works based on the jidaigeki films of Sadao Nakajima — including “Tajuro Jun Aiki.”

Other venues for the art half of the festival include historic Former Junpu Elementary School, the Kyoto City Library and even department store Marui. The latter will host character designer Kazuyuki Sakuma’s interactive “Having No Trouble at All During an Adventure” exhibition, which he described as “aimed at people who have never been interested in art,” including children.

Though the four-day festival still clearly isn’t on the same scale as its older siblings throughout the country, five years is nothing to sneeze at — and by incorporating art and other Kyoto-specific features, it has found a way to set itself apart. Now if it can just solve that darn rain problem.