Okinawa Festival: Shift in Focus for Seventh Edition

The backers of Okinawa festival are in the midst of re-inventing it as a community-orientated, general-entertainment event.

The Okinawa International Movie Festival (OIMF) closed on Sunday at a metaphorical crossroads.

The seventh edition was notable for what it didn't have in comparison to previous years than what it did feature. Fewer films, fewer stars were the most noticeable elements, and yet the festival's shift towards becoming a more popular, local and general-entertainment festival, as well as the location, still lent it charm. 

The five-day festival that takes place on the largest of Japan's Ryukyu Islands chain, is backed by the giant Japanese entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kyogo, which recently revived Kyoto International Movie Festival. Now running both Kyoto and Okinawa, there is a sense that Yoshimoto is transitioning OIMF, a strategy that was confirmed to THR by CEO Hiroshi Osaki

OIMF has in previous years attracted stars such as Johnny Knoxville and Joel Schumacher, giving the festival some international visibility. For the 2015 edition, however, the celebrities were strictly local as Yoshimoto called upon its unrivaled roster of Japanese stars to thrill Okinawans and people from outside alike as they waited patiently at the red carpet ceremony at the eerie Kadena area of Okinawa island, a site not far from the U.S. air base.

Again, unlike in previous editions, there was no film competition this year, but still 58 films were screened, 16 films in the Special Invitation section, including the world premieres of Japanese titles The Ninja War of Torakage, from filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura, and director Hideta Takahata's Harajuku Denier, along with the international premiere of Chinese sex comedy One Night Stud, starring actress and singer Jiang Yiyan.

Organizers said that this year's edition of the festival saw 400,000 people visit Okinawa, up from 2014 but down from the highs of 2013 when Schumacher presided over the jury competition and the festival was spread over eight days. There may have been less for international attendees to see this year, but local enthusiasm still seemed high as the best of Japanese comedy and theater descended on the island, perhaps vindicating Yoshimoto's decision to give OIMF a more local flavor. 

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