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Filmmakers, stars at Tokyo Film Festival Asia Networking Reception share their stories

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There isn’t a place quite like an international film festival. Different to any other type of a cultural event, film festivals take us on unexpected journeys to places we have never been, experiences we have never had, characters we have never encountered, and possibilities we have never imagined. Attended by filmmakers, actors, producers and, of course, viewers from all over the world, these festivals are based on the very core of our existence: human stories. Here everyone has a story and every story is worth listening to.

Two days into the opening of Tokyo Film Festival 2018, on October 27, participants and guests gathered for the annual “Asia Networking Reception,” a special gathering celebrating films in Asia, organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center and the Tokyo International Film Festival. We stopped by at the reception to meet the many inspiring people there and hear a bit of their stories.

The masterminds behind Madras Beats (India)

Madras Beats’ Producer Latha (left) and Director Rajiv Menon (right)

Tell us a bit about the movie you’re presenting at Tokyo Film Festival 2018.

[Rajiv Menon]: Madras Beats is about a young man who wants to learn drumming. He belongs to a family which makes the drums but doesn’t play them. Another community, which he doesn’t belong to, plays the drums, and so he tries to be a part of them. But he has to find a mentor to learn about the drums and manage to cross the (forbidden) boundaries.

The movie was inspired by an earlier documentary we made on a 82-year-old drummer in India, a musician considered the best drummer in India. We met a Dalit man in his house who converted to Christianity in order to play the drums. For Madras Beats, we made a “what if” movie that tells the story of what if that man had actually grown to become a successful player.

The music is by Oscar award-winning composer Mr A.R. Rhaman who also did Slumdog Millionaire, so if you like music and happy endings, watch the movie!

How has TIFF 2018 been so far for you?

[Latha]: It has been all wonderful. It was especially touching to see the taiko drums at the opening ceremony of the film festival. We felt as if it resonates with us because it has a commonality with the theme of our film.

How has Japan and its cinema inspired you in your career?

[Latha]: We grew up watching [director] Akira Kurosawa and we’re also very inspired by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work. We saw his award-winning movie Shoplifters at the Cannes Film Festival this year when he was awarded. Director Kore-eda is a very gentle person and we think that’s the core of where his ideas come from. We would love to work with him on a film project if we have the chance.

Actress Shaina Magdayao from Seasons of the Devil (The Philippines)

You were wearing an amazing red gown at the opening of the film festival. Who designed it?

Thank you very much. It was designed by a Filipino designer called Michael Leyva.

How does it feel to be in Tokyo and at the film festival?

This is only my second time participating in a film festival and my very first one in Tokyo. I am very excited about watching as many Japanese movies as I can during the festival and learn more about Japanese cinema. When we talk about Japanese movies, we typically talk about animation, but I know there’s so much more to that.

Any specific Japanese films you’d like to watch?

I’ve read about Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, so if I have the chance I definitely want to see it this time.

Is this your first time in Tokyo as well?

No, I’ve been here before, twice. In fact, ten years ago I spent my 18th birthday here in Tokyo. I’ve also traveled to Niseko in Hokkaido and Osaka. Interestingly, however, I’ve never been to Kyoto and I’ve never experienced cherry blossoms yet either! This time, after the festival is over, we’ll also go to Niigata to celebrate my birthday.

Tell us a bit about Seasons of the Devil.

It’s an “anti-musical musical,” as they call it, where we sing our lines without any melodies. It’s a four-hour long film about what happened in the Philippines in the late 1970s, under Marcos’ dictatorship. I play an activist, a character based on a collection of different real-life characters that lived through these times.

The lovely cast and crew of History Lessons (Mexico)

Director Marcelino Islas Hernández (far right), lead actress Veronica Langer (second from right), producer Andrea Toca (far left) and their guest, Carlos A. Moralez (second from left).

How is the festival going so far for you?

[Andrea Toca]: We had our first screening today and we are extremely happy as it was very well received. Our screening was early in the morning and we thought that not so many people will show up, but we had a full room. We received very warm comments from the audience. Today was definitely our best day!

That is so wonderful to hear. Will you be staying in Japan for some sightseeing after the festival is over?

[Marcelino Islas Hernández]: Yes, definitely. Yesterday we went on a sightseeing bus tour around Tokyo and soon we’ll be heading to Kyoto for two days before returning to Tokyo once again for our second screening.

Are you well familiar with Japanese cinema? What is your favorite Japanese movie?

[Hernández:] Yes, very much. In addition to being a film director, I also teach filmography in Mexico and I often include Japanese movies as part of my course materials. Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story) is my absolute favorite Japanese movie and also a very important part of my course on cinema.

[Langer]: I personally love all Akira Kurosawa movies and the animation Spirited Away.

Director Garin Nugroho and actress Annisa Hertami from Chaotic Love Poems (Indonesia)

Actress Annisa Hertami (right)

How does it feel to be back in Tokyo?

[G. Nugroho]: I love it here. Thirteen of my movies have been displayed at the Tokyo Film Festival, and one even won an award a few years ago. It’s great to be back for another year. Tokyo Film Festival has always been extremely important for my career.

[A. Hertami]: This is my second time visiting the Tokyo Film Festival. The first time was six years ago. I’m very excited to be here and bring Indonesian cinema to Japan.

Director Garin Nugroho

That is wonderful to hear. Congratulations and welcome to Tokyo again! What is your view on Japanese cinema and do you have any favorite Japanese directors or actors?

[A. Hertami]: This year I really enjoyed the special screening Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2018: Journey. I love Journey’s story, it is absolutely beautiful; simple but very powerful.

My favorite Japanese director of all time is Akira Kurosawa, of course. But apart from cinema, I also adore artist Yayoi Kusama and designer Yohji Yamamoto. I am absolutely in love with his clothes. In fact, I wore his clothes yesterday on the second day of the festival.

Do you have a message to Japanese viewers?

[A. Hertami]: Thank you very much for watching our film and we hope that it gives you a new perspective. Tokyo is a city that welcomes foreigners from all over the world and with our film we want to do the same — we are celebrating all human beings who are here today with us!

Actress Nandar Myat Aung from Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2018: Journey (Hekishu)

Tell us a bit about the movie you’re representing at this year’s film festival.

This is a three-part omnibus movie created by three directors. The movie I take part in, Hekishu, is set in Yangon at a time when the city undergoes a rapid economic development. There is a major railway development project that takes place and my character, the protagonist, is against the sudden change, in a bid to preserve the old system. She doesn’t welcome change and struggles to come to terms with it.

This movie is directed by a Japanese director, Daishi Matsunaga, and has also Hiroki Hasegawa in the lead role, too. He is a very famous Japanese actor. What was it like to work with a Japanese crew?

At first, I was extremely nervous as it was my first time working with a team from Japan. Everyone on the crew, however, especially Mr. Hasegawa, was very kind and welcoming to me. He’s a very famous actor but also very nice to everyone.

Do you have a message for viewers in Japan?

I hope everyone will enjoy the movie and be open about the message it is trying to convey. I also hope that everyone will support it!

Director Kidlat Tahimik from Lakbayan

Director Kidlat Tahimik (left), known as the father of Philippine Independent Cinema,
smiles as he talks to the JFF crew during the reception.

Welcome to yet another year at TIFF! Tell us a bit about your most recent movie.

Lakbayan is an omnibus film filmed by three directors Brillante Ma Mendoza, Lav Diaz and myself. The world “Lakbayan” means “journey” and the film depicts three different journeys across the Philippines. My section of the film talks about a journey to the enlightenment.

Speaking of spiritual traveling, if you could take a journey around Japan, where would you go?

To Noto Peninsula. It’s a very spiritual place which I visited for the first time in 1967 and once again in 2012.

You have been visiting Tokyo for the Tokyo Film Festival since the early 1980s — do you also have a favorite place in Tokyo, too?

There’s a favorite place of mine in Saitama, called Takedera. It’s a small temple surrounded by a bamboo forest. That’s my spiritual home in Japan. The obosan (monk) is my best friend. He sent his son to study in the Philippines and our sons grew up together.

As a person who have been in Japan many times, what factor of the culture here do you find particularly appealing?

I think the Japanese have a secret yearning to go back to traditions. They call it satoyama, the return to nature. This yearning to go back to balance is what inspires me, because I think that the modern world has somewhat lost it. We can’t stop the advancement but we can at least balance it.

Director Kidlat Tahimik (left) and actor and his son Kabunyan de Guia (right)

What is your message for the viewers in Japan?

I always feel a strong affinity between Japan and the Philippines because we have a common culture where we include others within ourselves. In spite of industrialization I think the Japanese still have the spirit of conviviality — always thinking of the other. I think that’s what the world needs now. If young Japanese people remember to look for that and keep it alive, it will help then win against (the negativity of) industrialization, the constant competing with each other. We’re speeding up too much; we’ve lost our breaks.

<p>And a few more…

Thailand’s Brother of the Year

Director Vithaya Thongyuyong (right) and lead actor Sunny Suwanmethanont (left)

a movie about a different type of a brother-sister relationship. The friendly duo told us that their favorite Japanese movie is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister and that they’re excited to see the “Fujiko Fujio Ⓐ The Exhibition – Ⓐ’s Weird and Amazing Collection -” at Tokyo City View during their stay in Tokyo.

China’s Wushu Orphan

Director Huang Huang from China’s Wushu Orphan (left) and his guest stopped by for a quick interview to introduce the movie, which premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival. Huang told us that this is his very first time in Tokyo and that he’s impressed at how international the city and the film festival is. He also shared a bit of a trivia of himself: he loves animation, video games, and Masaaki Yuasa’s movies.


The friendly director Nobuhiro Yamashita of HARD-CORE, a movie about a lovable robot that changes the otherwise socially awkward lives of three young man.

We hope to see you all next year at Tokyo Film Festival 2019!

Interview and text: Alexandra Homma
Photos: David Jaskiewicz