Film | Wide Angle

Okinawa rolls out the red carpet for its annual film festival

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

The Okinawa International Movie Festival has never been just about movies — or even Okinawa. Held from April 18 to 22, the 11th edition was a showcase for the talents of sponsor Yoshimoto Kogyo — an Osaka-based agency that supplies Japanese TV with many of its comedians and emcees.

But another festival mission was to raise the profile of Okinawa as a tourist destination and an entertainment industry hub, while offering Okinawans a variety of ways to participate — from free classes (yoga, anyone?) to the big open-air concert on closing night.

The festival-sponsored tour for the foreign press on Day 2 was emblematic of this diverse (or if you will, scattershot) approach. We first visited CGCG Studio outside Naha for a demonstration of motion-capture technology, during which I fired a mock bazooka at avuncular CGCG Executive Officer Takeshi Yamazoe in a motion capture suit. We then toured the Plaza House Shopping Center, which began in 1954 catering to the U.S. military community. Black-and-white photos from its early days greeted visitors in every nook and cranny.

Finally and most relevantly, we saw Comic Dojo TEE! Family, a live show featuring acrobatic stunts, karate and slapstick gags, with the audience participating. One actor was channeling Harold Lloyd, another Jackie Chan — and a fun time was had by all.

Movies were also on the schedule, particularly those produced by Yoshimoto and its partners. I trouped out to Shuri Theater, an ancient, crumbling pile near Shuri Castle, to see “Violence Voyager,” a “gekimation” film by the single-named Ujicha. In addition to being the film’s scriptwriter, director and editor, he manipulated the small paper puppets that are its characters. The story: Two boys wander into a creepy theme park up in the mountains — and become unwilling subjects in its owner’s mad experiments. Created by an imagination more Stephen King and “South Park” than Walt Disney, the film was too bizarre and disturbing for small kids, though I saw some wandering about outside, perhaps escorted from the theater by their horrified parents.

I also saw “Grandma Is OK,” actor-director Jacky Woo’s drama about the strong bond between a young boy (Kokoro Terada) and his grandmother (Manami Fuji) that is threatened when she is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The film is a stark depiction of the disease’s ravages, portrayed with authority by Fuji. The film’s true star, though, is 10-year-old Terada. His crying scenes, played with heart-rending realism, could squeeze tears from stones.

The Audience Award winner, however, was “Handling Method for Grumpy Woman,” a comedy by TV director Shunsuke Arita about a novice wedding planner (Akari Hayami) who saves a troubled reception from imploding with her college research into differences between male and female brains.

But for many locals, the festival’s highlight was its red carpet event on closing day. Hundreds of Yoshimoto personalities and non-Yoshimoto film folk ambled down Naha’s Kokusai Dori as excited young fans shouted their names — the volume serving as an instant popularity barometer. In this case, as in so many, silence spoke louder than words.

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