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Friday, Feb. 25, 2011
Sun, sea and celluloid in Okinawa
Special to The Japan Times
If you're going to hold a film festival in Japan dedicated to laughter and peace, Okinawa is the logical place for it. Where better to crack a smile than in a land of sunshine, or to wish for peace than an island that suffered war's devastation and has served as a U.S. military garrison for six decades?
The third edition of the Okinawa International Movie Festival, to be held March 18-27 in Naha, Okinawa, is the creation of Yoshimoto Kogyo, the Osaka-based talent agency-cum-media empire whose specialty is comedy: primarily the manzai (comedy duo) acts from the Kansai area who have been making TV audiences laugh for decades.
The festival's two main competition sections — punningly titled Laugh (comedies) and Peace (noncomedies) — have always had a strong Yoshimoto flavor, with its talents appearing both in front of and behind the cameras. But as festival programmer Keisuke Konishi explained at a press conference on Tuesday, "We have a global and local focus this year as well."
Opening the 2011 festival is new comedy film "Manzai Gyangu (Manzai Gang)" by Hiroshi Shinagawa, director of the hit 2009 punk gang film "Drop" — and a Yoshimoto talent. It's one of three films in the competition directed by Yoshimoto funnymen; seven have also been produced in collaboration with Yoshimoto.
Among them is "Omuraisu" ("Omlette Rice"), a comedy by pint-size comic/actor Yuichi Kimura that stars many of the famous TV and movie folks with whom he has appeared over the years. Another is Seiki Nagahara's "Inu no Kubiwa to Korokke to (A Dog's Collar and a Croquette)," an autobiographical dramady in the Peace section about Nagahara's years as a wild child in Osaka's Koreatown.
But the competition will also screen 15 titles from abroad, including the Japan premiere of the Ivan Reitman comedy "No Strings Attached," starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and Feng Xiaogang's "Aftershock," a disaster epic that beat "Avatar" at the Chinese box office.
To stimulate regional production, the festival has launched two new programs for this year's edition. One, the Local Origination Project, consists of seven films made in cooperation with Yoshimoto and seven localities around Japan, from Niigata to Okinawa. Though the stars may be from the Yoshimoto roster, many locals also appear on screen.
Another is the Yoshimoto-sponsored Jimot CM Competition, which solicited ideas for TV commercials from regions around Japan with the aim of publicizing local products and attractions. Out of 565 ideas submitted, 10 have been made into ads for the competition. The winner gets ¥470,000 and an airing on terrestrial TV.
To attract business types as well as film fans (a total of 380,000 last year), the festival, in cooperation with Yoshimoto and U.S. talent shop Creative Artists Agency (CAA), is launching the Okinawa Content Bazaar. As Yoshimoto Entertainment USA, Inc. CEO Aki Yorihiro explained, the idea is to "create a new model for international coproduction" for television entertainment programming. Instead of simply selling formats of Japanese shows to foreign buyers, Yoshimoto and its partners are developing show concepts they hope will appeal to both Japanese and U.S. audiences and then produce them in English and Japanese versions.
The festival also offers a multitude of events at Ginowan Seaside Park, including comedy acts, talk sessions and concerts by such artists as Okinawa's own Rimi Natsukawa, Kariyushi 58 and Begin. And if you're in the mood to cinematically reminisce, the festival is screening a retrospective devoted to two recently deceased stars of popular films: Kei Tani, a sharp-witted member of the 1960s comedy band The Crazy Cats, and Makoto Fujita, an actor best known for his "Hissatsu! (Sure Death!)" period drama TV and film series.
Finally, if your command of Osaka-ben (Osaka dialect), let alone Okinawan, is shaky or nonexistent, subtitles will be provided for all films. And when the movies get too much, there's always that Okinawan sunshine — laughter optional.