Tommy Lee Jones: Tokyo Jury to Put Politics Aside, Celebrate Films That Unite People

Tommy Lee Jones

The Oscar-winning Tokyo jury president later bristled when asked to define cinema in one word, offering a Jean-Luc Godard film or the word "money" as his answer.

The 30th Tokyo Film Festival's main competition jury, lead by Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, met the international media Thursday at a brief press conference held within the Japanese capital's glitzy Roppongi Hills complex. 

"We're all very happy to be here — this is an honored occasion for each one of us," Jones said in his introductory remarks. "I am the only American on this jury, and we only have one person from China, one Iranian, one from France and just one person from Japan. So we don’t represent the entire world, but we don’t represent any one place either — and that's a very good thing."

Jones is serving as the president of the Tokyo festival's main competition jury this year. His fellow jurors are Chinese star Zhao Wei (So Young), Iranian filmmaker Reza Mirkarimi (Under the Moonlight), French director and writer Martin Provost (The Midwife) and Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase, who appeared in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, among other international productions.

Turning to the perennial film festival press question of the jury's criteria for assessing the 15 films in competition, Jones said: "What we will be looking for is good film craft and movies that lead their audience, if not drag them, towards understanding one another, whatever their country of origin." 

"I don't believe anyone has any particular political interest at this table," he added. "I believe everyone has a deep and sincere interest in the commonality of human emotional and intellectual life — I’m pretty sure everyone will be looking for that."

The 71-year-old actor later displayed some of his characteristic prickliness when a member of the audience asked each juror to offer their definition of cinema in one word. 

"If cinema could be reduced to one word, none of us would be rolling our cameras," Jones said. "I can recommend a movie called Pierrot le Fou, by Jean-Luc Godard, in which there’s a scene where the great Samuel Fuller appears as himself and offers a definition of cinema — I would refer you to that." (In that famous scene, Fuller, appearing as a party guest, defines cinema thus: "The film is a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death — in one word, emotion.")

The other jury members, one by one, concurred with Jones that cinema is irreducible, with Nagase adding: "But I do believe in cinema’s potential, and will say simply that I have faith in cinema."

Once the other jurors had each offered their demurrals, Jones changed his tune somewhat, offering an additional curt thought: "I do have one word for you, and that's 'Money' — because you have to spend a lot of it to make a film."

And with that, the jurors dispersed to begin their 15-film-long screening schedule.