Tokyo festival hopes eco theme will echo

Fest's 21st edition will offset 23 tons of carbon dioxide

TOKYO -- The Tokyo International Film Festival will begin Saturday with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, the stars of John Woo's historical epic "Red Cliff," walking a "green" carpet of recycled plastic in support of the environmental theme of the event's 21st edition.

Considering the current global economic crisis, the screening of "Red Cliff" -- the most expensive Asian movie ever made -- might seem counter to the intended tone of the nine-day festival.

But organizers hope TIFF's timely Earth-friendly focus, increased registration and splashy opening screening will help the event make its mark, sandwiched as it is between such major international film events as Pusan and AFM -- and overlapping with the Rome International Film Festival.

Following criticism that it was merely playing the green card with its eco theme, organizers said Wednesday that the festival will offset 23 tons of carbon dioxide emissions with the purchase of 49,000 kilowatt hours worth of "Green Power Certificates."

What's more, two documentaries in the 27-film Natural TIFF section, which showcases work meant to make the audience ponder the "symbiosis between nature and mankind," will see their world premieres Oct. 22.

In "Blue Symphony," director Takahiro Mitsuyoshi explores the life and eventual suicide in Japan of record-setting deep sea diver Jacques Mayol. "Silent Color, Silent Voice," by Ayako Mogi, explores one couple's efforts to preserve traditional weaving and dying by using the gifts of nature on small and remote southern Japanese island of Iriomote.

Hollywood actor Jon Voight has traveled to Japan during a break in filming of the new season of "24" to lead the festival's competition jury.

Among the 15 competition films are the international premiere of Asian-American director Jennifer Phang's environmentally themed drama "Half-Life," and the world premiere of Chinese director Feng Xiaoning's environmental action-thriller "Super Typhoon."

The director of the top film will take home the $100,000 Sakura Grand Prix Prize.

"I usually duck these kind of offers, but when I heard about the chance to head the jury at the Tokyo festival, I thought, 'Great news! This is my chance to pay my respects to Japanese film," Voight told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Even before I wanted to be an actor, I was drawn to the films of Kurosawa and his great star Toshiro Mifune," Voight said. "I actually wanted to be an artist, and Kurosawa was known for the drawings and paintings he created of scenes and characters for his films. I have a book of his pictures, and it's one of my most treasured possessions."

For the fifth year in a row, the Akira Kurosawa award will be given to the filmmakers whose contribution to world cinema the jury deems outstanding. Unveiled Oct. 11, this year's honorees are Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov ("Urga") and Chinese director Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine").

In its fifth year, the TIFF-adjacent TIFFCOM market runs Wednesday-Oct. 24 and looks sure to break records again, with early exhibitor registration up 10%-15% from last year, to nearly 172 companies.

TIFF forms part of the second Japan International Contents Festival, known as Co-Festa, which runs Sept. 30-Oct. 28 and also includes the International Drama Festival, the world-renowned Tokyo Game Show, Digital Content Expo, Tokyo Asia Music Market and the huge CEATEC consumer electronics exhibition.

TIFF runs through Oct. 26.

Jonathan Landreth in New York contributed to this report.