The annual Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) kicked off on October 28 for the 32nd consecutive year, gathering global actors, filmmakers, and fans for yet another round of impressive film lineup. This year marked the sixth anniversary of the festival’s “Crosscut Asia,” a section organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center with the aim to showcase the best of Asia’s films. Entitled “Fantastic Southeast Asia,” the category this year featured 10 movies of various genres, which reflect the extraordinary and mysterious world of this region. As TIFF’s Programming Director Kenji Ishizaka wrote in his introduction to the category, “(Southeast Asia’s films) demonstrate the essence of how the region came about and where it is heading.”
Four days into the opening of the festival, on October 31, stars and filmmakers predominantly from Asia gathered in Tokyo’s Roppongi for the annual “Asia Networking Reception,” an event organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. We caught up with some of the participants to ask about the drive behind their work, their Japanese inspirations, and where they’re heading next.
Director Mattie Do from “The Long Walk”: Laos’ first and only female director
Welcome to the Tokyo Film Festival 2019. How has it been so far for you?
It’s incredible because the festival really has a strong Asian focus. It feels really special to have a section (Crosscut Asia) that highlights Southeast Asia. These are films that normally wouldn’t get seen in other countries because people don’t know what to expect from Southeast Asia, but here we can highlight and show off our stories.
Tell us a bit about your film, “The Long Walk.”
“The Long Walk” is a unique film about an old recluse who discovers that through his ghostly companion, he can time travel. He goes back into the past to try and rectify his regrets and mistakes. The origin of it comes from my own pain. I lost my mother when I was 25 to cancer, and although there was nothing we could have done, you always wonder — could something have been done? Probably not, but it stays with you. About three years ago, I also lost my dad. I had to euthanize him, but the gravity of that choice was just as bad. I still wonder whether we made the right choice. I think the origin of the story comes from the need to reconcile these feelings that I’ve had over the years. Honestly, I didn’t think the movie would do so well because it’s so personal, but it has been resonating with a lot of audiences, including here in Tokyo.
Is Japanese cinema popular in Laos?
It is not so well known. What is well known is Japanese animation and manga. But I think we just haven’t had the occasion. We’ve only had official cinema for about three years, and we only have three and a half venues. We’re still just developing our taste for cinema now. There is an annual Japanese Film Festival in Laos, though, and it fills up the seats. Last time, the audience loved “One Cut of the Dead” (Shinichirou Ueda, 2017).
What is your favorite Japanese movie?
There are so many amazing ones. I love “The Ring,” (Hideo Nakata, 1998) and (Hirokazu) Kore-eda’s “Daremo Shiranai” (Nobody Knows, 2004). Also, this is a very off-brand for me, but I love “Tokyo Sonata” (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008). It makes you feel the struggles and the pain of lower-middle-class families. It really hit home.
Director Brillante Ma Mendoza from “Mindanao”: One of The Philippines’ most acclaimed filmmakers
Welcome back to Tokyo, director Mendoza. How has TIFF 2019 has been for you so far?
It’s great! I’m very happy to be here with a very big Filipino team of filmmakers. It’s a sign that we have continuously collaborated with the Tokyo International Film Festival. In fact, I just produced a film that was shot in Japan, and I will be doing another one next year, which will be shot in Okinawa.
What is it like to film in Japan?
When I was shooting “Shiniuma” (Dead Horse), which is in the “Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections”, it was snowing. For our next project, we intend to also film it in the winter. Filming in Japan is both very challenging, but, at the same time, it’s a new kind of experience for us filmmakers. We’re enjoying the winter.
Did you try kotatsu (Japanese heating table) while filming?
No, we didn’t, but I tried the heating patches that you put all over the body. (Laughs)
Oh, nothing can beat those! Tell us about your film, “Mindanao.”
“Mindanao” is my latest feature. It’s about a Muslim mother from Mindanao, a region in the southern Philippines. We are a 90% Christian country, but we have Mindanao, a Muslim region, where many minorities live. There is a local conflict in Mindanao. (Through the movie) I wanted to raise this stigma about the southern Philippines. It’s a huge island and there’s much to see there apart from war. Of course, we cannot take the war out of Mindanao whether we like it or not, but there’s more to Mindanao than the conflict.
You’ve been to Japan many times already. Do you have a favorite place here?
I’ve shot in Saga Prefecture before, and I’m going to shoot in Okinawa next. But I’ve also shot in Hokkaido and I liked it very much.
Kent Gonzales from “The Entity”: The Philippines’ rising star
Welcome to Tokyo and the film festival. How has the experience been for you so far?
It’s my first time in Tokyo and everything’s great — I love the culture and the people.
Tell us about your movie, “The Entity” where you play one of the leading roles.
It’s a horror film directed by Erik Matti. It’s pretty scary. It’s my first major role and now I’m here at an international film festival — it’s surreal.
Speaking of horror movies, do you have a favorite Japanese horror film?
“The Grudge” (Ju-on)(Takashi Shimizu, 2003). It’s very scary. I couldn’t sleep for a month. Japanese horror films are the next level.
Actress Jette Sondergaard and Director Frelle Petersen from “Uncle”: Exploring family relations from Denmark
Actress Jette Sondergaard and Director Frelle Petersen represented Denmark at TIFF 2019 with their film “Uncle,” a story about a young woman who undergoes a life change while living with her partially disabled uncle on a farm in remote Denmark. “‘Uncle’ takes place in a very specific region in Denmark, but everyone can relate to it,” said director Petersen. “We had a great experience at the world premiere (at TIFF). There was a lot of laughing and a lot of handkerchiefs to wipe the tears.” Peterson, a fan of Japanese movies and culture said coming to Japan was a dream come true for him. “I must have been around 10 when I saw my first samurai movie and even though I didn’t understand everything, it was fascinating for me. When I was told that we were invited to TIFF 2019, I was thrilled!”
Director Akio Fujimoto: Award-winning director from Japan who explores the meaning of “belonging” in migration
Director Akio Fujimoto’s “Passage of Life,” (Boku no Kaeru Basho) is a Myanmar-Japan joint production about a Burmese family living in Tokyo who face a family and identity crisis when the children’s father is caught by the Japanese Immigration Bureau. Fujimoto, who debuted as a director with the film in 2017 and won the 2017 Spirit of Asia Award by The Japan Foundation Asia Center, says the acceptance — and farewell to the so-called “return immigrants” — is a global theme we should all increase debate on. Himself married to a Burmese lady, he says he hopes his work can contribute to this.
Wanyi Hindrawan Pratiknyo: Producer of Indonesia’s “Foxtrot Six”
Wanyi Hindrawan Pratiknyo represents a group of producers behind Indonesia’s latest masterpiece, an action-science-fiction “Foxtrot Six” (Randy Korompis, 2018). “The film is a very unique project because Indonesia’s action, the movie industry, is growing, so this could be the first action-science-fiction,” Pratiknyo said, adding that the film was also influenced by Japanese works, including Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954) and the game “Metal Gear Solid.” “Our director loves games,” he laughed.
Shogen: Actor and model from Japan’s southern paradise Okinawa
Shogen’s debut film “Habu to genkotsu” (Bloody Snake Under the Sun, Yu Nakai, 2007) was shown at TIFF 2007, which is why the festival holds a special place in his heart. “I think we need this kind of place in Japan, a place to communicate with other filmmakers. I feel greatly honored to be here,” he said. “A lot of Japanese people come to the festival to watch Japanese films, but I would encourage them to also watch international movies. It’s rare — most of these films will not be shown in theaters in Japan.”
See you again next year at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2020!
Interview and text: Rose Haneda
Photos: David Jaskiewicz