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Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

Tokyo's FILMeX: small but tasty


By JASON GRAY
Special to The Japan Times

Now in its eighth year, Tokyo FILMeX (Nov. 17-25) continues to prove that good things come in small packages. With the sprawling Tokyo International Film Festival over, think of FILMeX as the more interesting, more memorable nijikai (after party) following TIFF's pomp and circumstance. FILMeX's devoted staff of cinephiles present 37 films they hope you won't forget.

All but three of this year's films are subtitled in English, with all non-Japanese films subtitled in Japanese. "We aim to create cultural exchange through movies — through new films, classic films, work from around the world and Japanese masterpieces," explains FILMeX director Kanako Hayashi.

Technically you can see 72 films, as the opening salvo is "To Each His Own Cinema," an omnibus of 35 shorts by some of the world's top directors, including Roman Polanski, the Coen Brothers, Wong Kar-wai, Lars von Trier and Abbas Kiarostami. It's sure to sell out quick.

2007's eclectic lineup also includes lost films from an Indian master, Hong Kong action, a tense drama set on the Gaza Strip and a sexually bold Taiwanese film, for starters.

The 10-film competition represents the festival's core purpose of showcasing Asia's emerging filmmakers.

Iran has only one film in the race, but it's an important one. Set in war-torn Afghanistan, "Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame" is the feature debut of 19-year-old Hana Makhmalbaf, who is from a famed filmmaking dynasty. Jackie Chan's son Jaycee stars in "The Drummer," which follows a young man who escapes trouble in Hong Kong and matures in Taiwan. A very different, very naked face of Taiwan is on display in "Help Me Eros," directed by Lee Kang-sheng (best known as star of mentor Tsai Ming-liang's films). That one might be too explicit for some. South Korea is back in competition with "The Wonder Years," about the insecurities of a 13-year-old girl, and Israel ups its quotient to two, including Cannes Camera d'Or winner "Jellyfish."

The Special Screenings category features 11 films by more established filmmakers. Longtime FILMeX friend and Venice Film Festival darling Jia Zhang-ke brings two documentaries — "Useless," an award-winning look at the Chinese fashion industry and "Dong," about one of China's most famous painters. Last year saw FILMeX's first Filipino and Paraguayan films, while this year there is an experimental Haitian movie "Eat, for This Is My Body." And don't forget competition jury head Lee Chang-dong's prize-winning festival closer "Secret Sunshine."

Not one for subtitles, but still fancy something out of the ordinary? Visit the weird, Winnipegian world of Guy Maddin. Shot in silent black-and-white Super 8, "Brand Upon the Brain!" depicts the secrets of a family living on an isolated island. Soak in its strange imagery as Isabella Rossellini narrates.

FILMeX is not all "artsy," though. For action junkies, try Johnnie To's spaghetti western-influenced bullet opera "Exiled." It's one of the films without subtitles but has kinetic style to burn. Meanwhile, To's screenwriter Yau Nai-hoi's cop thriller "Eye In the Sky" plays in competition.

If you're frustrated with rental-store Tsutaya's lack of subtitled Japanese movies, there are two world premieres in competition. "Both 'The Kiss (Seppun)' and 'What the Heart Craves (Musunde-Hiraite)' are powerful films with great acting," says program director Shozo Ichiyama.

Also notable is FILMeX's annual collaboration with the National Film Center in Kyobashi, Tokyo, to screen newly struck subtitled prints of Japanese classics. This year's 12-film retrospective introduces Satsuo Yamamoto. Remember watching Sho Kosugi ninja films on VHS when you were a kid? Why not go back to the authentic source — with 1962 hit "A Band of Assassins"? If you liked Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi," you can check out Yamamoto's entry in the legendary original series. "The Spy" (1965) is a hard-boiled espionage thriller involving the Korean Peninsula.

While India was absent from last year's program, it's back with a four-film retrospective on director Ritwik Ghatak, a key figure in the rich Bengali art-film world. Ghatak never garnered the international acclaim that Satyajit Ray did, but audiences can now see why he's held in the same regard at home.

Tickets are available on the day of screening, but you can save money by purchasing advance tickets through Ticket Pia. Schedule information can be found at www.filmex.net/2007/schedule-e.htm. The Satsuo Yamamoto program is same-day ticket sales only.


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