Postcard from Mark Schilling in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 5:37pm

The 26th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) had luck on its side, as festival director general Yasushi Shiina smilingly noted at its closing ceremony on October 25. "We squeezed through between two typhoons," he said.

The first, Typhoon Wipha, whipped past one day before the festival began on October 17, causing a large loss of life and property on Izu Oshima Island south of Tokyo. The second, Typhoon Francisco, threatened more destruction on luckless Oshima only a week later, until it was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson also counted himself fortunate after winning the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix, TIFF's highest honour, for his kids-form-a-punk-band film We Are the Best!.

"It's not a festival film," he told the closing-night crowd at the festival's main venue in the Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills Cineplex. He said he had planned to "spend the night shopping for toys and having dinner" with wife Coco - on whose memoir the drama-comedy was based - and their young daughter. Jury chairman Chen Kaige, however, said the jury's decision was unanimous.

The top prize winner aside, this year's edition of the TIFF was devoted to showcasing talent from Asia in not only the competition, but also the new Japanese Cinema Splash section, which screened Japanese indie films, and the new Asian Future section, which presented work by up-and-coming Asian directors.

Among Asian winners in the 15-film competition section were: Iranian Behnam Bezadi's Special Jury Prize-winning Bending the Rules; the mainland's Wang Jingchun, named best actor for his turn as a hard-nosed cop in Ning Ying's To Live and Die in Ordos; and the Philippines' Eugene Domingo, named best actress for her turn as a newbie barber in Jun Robles Lana's Barber's Tales.

And although Koji Fukada's Au Revoir L'ete and Hideo Sakaki's Disregarded People, the two Japanese entries in the main competition, failed to win anything, the critical reaction was more positive, especially for Fukada's film.

A homage to French director Eric Rohmer, down to its for-export title, Au Revoir L'ete is ostensibly a coming-of-age film about a teenage girl (Fumi Nikaido) and boy (single-name actor Taiga) who meet at a summer resort town not far from Tokyo. But rather than focus on its two young principals and their budding friendship, the film becomes an ensemble drama that includes a lecherous uncle and the girl's sexy college professor aunt - and artfully exposes the characters' secrets, erotic and otherwise, to comic and dramatic effect.

Similarly humanistic, if darker in tone, Sakaki's Disregarded People stars Nao Omori as a jobless, friendless, sexually frustrated man who returns to his native Fukue Island, determined to end it all. Instead he finds work as a labourer in a fish-processing plant and a semblance of happiness with a disfigured woman (Hitomi Miwa) who is a fervent follower of a religious cult.

Among the TIFF's Japanese award winners was Ayumi Sakamoto's Forma, named best picture of the Japanese Cinema Splash section. An exercise in indie minimalism, it's also a study of revenge served cold.

A woman (Nagisa Umeno) finds a job for a former classmate (Emiko Matsuoka), while concealing her anger over long-past wrongs the classmate supposedly committed - at least in the beginning. Then the truth comes out as do, predictably, the fangs.

Also exploring the slippery nature of reality is Mari Asato's Bilocation. Based on the phenomenon of "bilocations" - doubles that interact with the human world, instead of merely appearing in it like doppelgangers - the film begins as an offbeat crime thriller when its artist protagonist (Asami Mizukawa) is arrested for shoplifting, and discovers the real criminal is a lookalike. But the story takes a sharp turn towards the bizarre as she is initiated into a support group of unfortunates with bilocations - and learns of the mortal danger that they present to the "originals".

Asato's treatment of this material borders on the absurd, but the characters have scary back stories. Also, the heroine's own tale has an unsettling twist that might have pleased Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, that late expert at pulling the existential rug out from under his unlucky characters, trapped in a world too strange for reason.