Tokyo Film Fest Spotlights Female Sumo Wrestlers, Punk Samurai

Courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival
'The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine'

"It’s a really, really exciting movie," says one of eight creatives featured as the market put the focus on homegrown talent. "You get to watch small insects, butterflies and see the growth of grass."

Four teams of Japanese directors and producers and their movies about punk samurai, female sumo wrestlers, zombies and an artist’s love for his garden were in the spotlight at the Tokyo International Film Festival’s TIFFCOM market this week.

In a special event, entitled Japan Now Presentation and designed to give them a platform for potential international deals for their works, the four duos spoke about their films in the festival’s Japan Now section and their potential appeal abroad.

Kohei Ando, programming adviser of the Japan Now section, said one thing that all four films have in common and also share with other movies in the section is “vagueness or opaqueness,” which has often been seen as “a weakness or shortcoming of the Japanese people.” But he said he considers this “ambiguity” as “part of the country’s aesthetics and culture.”

Here is a look at the Japanese creatives and films showcased in the event and what the directors and producers shared at the crowded event with international market attendees.

Punk Samurai Slash Down Gakuryu Ishii (director), Kazuhiro Ito (producer)

The book adaptation is a mad romp period piece about a wandering samurai who lies about a religious cult to get a job.

Ito lauded the cast and costume designers, highlighting that the latter had to design “traditional kimonos” and that the visuals are “amazing.”

But his director said he had very simple motivations to work on the project. Quipped Ishii: “I love traditional Japanese samurai movies and I love destructive…movies, so I mixed both to just have fun.”

The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine Takahisa Zeze (director), Kazunao Sakaguchi (producer)

The period film set in 1920 features an anarchist group called the Guillotine Society, which really existed, and a group of female sumo wrestlers striving for equality who also existed back then.

Zeze quipped that the anarchists and sumo wrestlers are historical fact, and they lived when the country still had samurai, but there were no punk samurai for his film.

“Japan is not an easy place to live these days, and I made this movie trying to do something about it,” he said before joking about lacking energy because he was hung over.

His producer said he was hoping the film could find a worldwide audience, arguing: “The world seems to be entering a stage where we are not that friendly or generous to each other. So we made this movie in order to transform the atmosphere surrounding us.”

One Cut of the Dead - Shinichiro Ueda (director), Koji Ichihashi (producer)

One-take zombie film One Cut of the Dead has been a surprise hit in Japan, just crossing the 2 million admissions mark in the country this week.

Producer Ichihashi during the event lauded the great feedback the film has received from audiences at more than 60 festivals worldwide; it has won 18 awards, starting with an audience award in Udine, Italy. “In Japan we started to show the movie in two theaters in June, but now it has expanded and expanded,” he said. “This week we hit 2 million people who have seen the movie.”

Did director Ueda think about international audiences given the interest in the movie abroad? “We didn’t even consider commercial success in Japan when we made the movie,” he said, adding that he “grew up watching Hollywood movies and other international movies more so than Japanese movies,” so maybe that affected him unconsciously.

“The first 37 minutes is a one-cut zombie survival movie, then the remainder is a second movie that talks about the backstage of how this movie was filmed,” he said about his film. “This movie was created through a workshop of new directors and new actors. During the rehearsal, we wanted to know the unique characteristics of each actor, and the script was adapted to accommodate that uniqueness.”

Ueda also discussed his take on filmmaking in Japan and his different approach. “In Japan when we create movies, we are always thinking more about the message or theme or the meaning behind the movie rather than how fun or enjoyable it can be,” he explained. “We are often asked what is the message that you want to convey, and I don’t want to be contrarian, but I wanted to create a movie that is pure 100 percent fun.”

Next up, One Cut of the Dead is going to South Korea and other countries in Asia, followed by Europe. Said the producer: “This film has very massive appeal to international audiences.”

Mori, the Artist’s Habitat Shuichi Okita (director), Keiichi Yoshida (producer)

Okita said he really met the artist whom the film is about, and the artist never left his garden in 30 years. “My movie is just one summer day of these 30 years to feature his life,” he explained. “Half is real, and half is fiction.” He said he started with a script imagining what the artist’s life was like.

Yoshida said the artist always had guests at his place and garden, urging audiences to “please visit it yourselves.”

Quipped Okita: “It’s a really, really exciting movie — you get to watch small insects, butterflies and see the growth of grass.”