James Gunn Celebrates Non-Commercial Cinema at Tokyo Film Festival

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James Gunn

The 'Guardians of the Galaxy' director and competition jury chair also discussed his Asian influences

The competition jury of the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival, led by chair James Gunn, writer and director of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, introduced itself to the press Friday, with the various members sharing their criteria for assessing the 15 films going head- to-head in the event's official competition.

Gunn at the conference implored the audience to spread the word and drum up support for the Tokyo festival and all those like it.

"In a world where film has become something like a pure commodity – of course, business does have to be part of it, because movies take so much money to make -- it's great to have these pockets of real culture," he said. "The festivals in Tokyo, London, Berlin, or Venice. It's important to have events that acknowledge films as something other than commerce, so that it doesn't become a world where movies are made purely to make a lot of money and don't have any heart."

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Gunn opened the press conference by saying that he was thrilled to be in Tokyo for the first time as Asian cinema, particularly the work of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, has been as big an influence on his work as Hollywood.

"I've only been here for a day and a half and it's been a wonderful time," he said. "So far, this is the best jury I've been on. I hope it continues that way."

This year's competition jury is heavy on directors, with Gunn supported by Korea-born filmmaker John H. Lee (A Moment to Remember, 2004), Australian director Robert Luketic (forthcoming female-led Expendables spinoff ExpendaBelles), Singapore's Eric Khoo (Cannes 2008 Palme d'Or contender, My Magic) and Japanese comedian and director Hiroshi Shinagawa (One Third, 2013), along with veteran casting director Debbie McWilliams (Skyfall).

At a press conference on Thursday, the festival's programming director Yoshi Yatabe
 said that all of the films in this year's competition tell stories that could be called portrayals of "people with their backs to the wall," people who are cornered and wondering "how they are going to live tomorrow."

Asked about his judging criteria given this umbrella theme, Luketic said he has always viewed cinema as a" beacon of hope that illuminates the global human condition." He continued: "We're indeed living in very troubled and difficult times. A lot people around the world are facing very challenging situations and wondering which way things will turn. Films that can offer me hope and a sense that we're all kind of in this together -- that's sort of what I would look for, something truthful in that regard."

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Lee said his approach would be somewhat more intimate and personal. "I'm just going to try not to think too much," the filmmaker said. "When you're a director, you tend to get confined in your own world. I'm just ready to get blown away by the films... Perhaps I'm looking for something that I've never seen before. Besides from being a judge, that would be my personal agenda."

The Tokyo film fest competition section includes titles from Japan, Norway, Australia, the United States, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Colombia, Russia, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Azerbaijan.

"This truly is an international festival," added Luketic. "I feel like we're preparing to take a trip around the world with the films we're about to watch."