Tokyo Fest to Open with Boxing Drama 'Underdog,' Close with 'Hokusai' Biopic

'Hokusai' Still - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Tokyo Film Festival

'Hokusai'

The selection of two Japanese filmmakers to bookend the festival reflects the domestic form the event is expected to take in 2020 under the restrictive conditions of COVID-19.

The Tokyo International Film Festival unveiled on Thursday the opening and closing films for its upcoming 33rd annual edition.

The event, Japan's largest cinema occasion, will kick off on Oct. 31 with the premiere of Masaharu Take's boxing drama Underdog, starring Mirai Moriyama, Takumi Kitamura and Ryo Katsuji. Filmmaker Hajime Hashimoto will bring the festival to a close on Nov. 9 with the world debut of Hokusai, a biopic of the great Japanese ukiyo-e painter and printmaker.

The selection of two Japanese filmmakers to bookend the programming reflects the local form the festival is expected to take under the restrictive conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Festival organizers have stated that they intend to hold physical screenings across the Japanese capital as usual — " to enable audiences to experience the joy of watching films on the big screen" — but ongoing restrictions on inbound travel from most countries around the world will likely preclude most international attendance.

Underdog is a return to the boxing genre for indie mainstay Take. It follows his 2014 female boxing drama 100 Yen Love, which was Japan's Oscar submission for the best international feature film category that year. Underdog depicts the lives of three fighters left behind by life who cross fists in the ring to attempt their comebacks.

"I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the people who have made it possible to hold TIFF
despite the coronavirus pandemic," Take said in a statement Thursday. "Underdog was filmed in January and February 2020, capturing scenes we have lost due to COVID-19. Boxers, the lonely people in the ring, cannot continue to beat and be beaten without the audiences' cheers. The audience creates the match and continues to talk about it. Sometimes it's an incredible match. But it's not a match with only one viewer. Life is similar to this, and I think filmmaking is, too. The audience completes the film in the end."

Hashimoto's festival closer, Hokusai, stars Yuya Yagira as the young Hokusai and Min Tanaka as the artist in later years. The festival said the film provides "a unique perspective and interpretation" of the artist's legendary talent, known as known as the “Secret of Three Waves." The film is expected to touch on the genesis of his woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, one of the most iconic images of Japanese art history.

Hashimoto also offered a statement in response to his film's selection: "The history of film was nurtured in the darkness of movie theaters. Now this darkness is undergoing rapid change. It is easy to say that this is the flow of time. Darkness is a place where strangers sit together, cry, laugh, get angry and enjoy themselves. We put our hopes for Hokusai in such a place. Please enjoy it…in the dark."

The 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival runs Oct. 31 – Nov. 9 at locations across the Japanese capital. The event's full screening selection will be unveiled on Sept. 29.