February 23, 2024

As dusk fell on a warm Tokyo evening, comeback director Wim Wenders introduced the cast and crew of “Perfect Days” at an outdoor stage, giving the opening ceremony of the 36th Tokyo International Film Festival a moment of European cool.

Inside the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, Wenders was brought on stage twice more.

“I had a dream that with ‘Perfect Days,’ I’d make a film that would play at the Cannes Film Festival. I dreamed that it would win the best acting prize. I didn’t dare to dream that it would be Japan’s Oscar entry. But I did dream that it would be the opening film at the Tokyo festival and play in front of Japanese audiences,” said Wenders, getting into his stride. “And then I woke up. And yet here you are.”

Wenders, who must be nursing a bad case of jetlag, having only recently been honored at the Lumiere festival in France, is likely to be kept busy in the Japanese capital over the next days.

In addition to being director of the opening film, he is set at the president of the competition jury. And he is positioned as the chief foreign luminary at the festival’s anniversary tribute to past master Ozu Yasujiro.

Wenders has frequently declared Ozu, who died 60 years ago in 1963, to be his inspiration and his “master.” And the fact that Wenders has this year delivered his best fiction film in years, in Japanese-set “Perfect Days,” could not have been better timed from TIFF organizers’ perspective.

In the wider world, Japan’s national leaders are tossing around an array of political and economic problems that include inflation (a shock after some 30 years of deflation), a weak currency that is stoking inflation for imported goods, but is also a boon for the country’s tourism industry, and a Prime Minister struggling to keep his ruling coalition in one piece.

Diplomatic relations with China are improving – if the official narrative is to be believed – though Kishida Fumio’s government has also firmly allied itself in the western camp over Ukraine and other security issues. Wherever that balance lies, the Tokyo festival is chock-full of mainland Chinese films and used its opening ceremony to honor Chinese director Zhang Yimou with a lifetime achievement award.

This is like a new start for me,” said Zhang, who had been to the Tokyo festival twice before, once 36 years ago, and then again 18 years later with his “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.”

Kishida also delivered what is becoming his customary annual video message to the Japanese film industry as part of the festival’s opening ceremony. He name-checked Ozu, Wenders and “Perfect Days” lead actor Yakusho Koji and referenced the festival’s one-off tribute to Italian film directors. This follows the signing earlier this year of a bilateral co-production agreement with Italy.

Historically, formal co-production treaties have often reflected trends in diplomatic, or inter-government relations, rather than the state of audiovisual relations, and have been bypassed by filmmakers working in the real world. But a younger generation of Japanese filmmakers is indeed increasing its involvement in cross-border film production and fund raising. That trend is reflected in the growing weight being given by the festival’s TIFFCOM rights sales event to its Tokyo Gap Financing Market, project pitching and matching component, and the revived overseas guest participation at the festival.

Festival chairman Ando Hiroyasu said that he was, “Very happy that we are able to welcome nearly 2,000 guests from abroad this year. Last year due to various restrictions, the number of foreign guest was only about 100.” He also apologized for the slow pace of the red carpet procession. which inconvenienced some of his guests. “We had an overflow that kept things from flowing as smoothly as we had hoped.”

The country’s film industry has had a decent year. Hamaguchi Ryusuke is confirming his position as the leader of a new generation of Japanese filmmakers to follow the established Kore-eda Hirokazu, Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Kawase Naomi. Hamagichi’s enigmatic “Evil Does Not Exist” is up for a hatful of awards worldwide and confirmed the promise he delivered with “Drive My Car” and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.” With “The Boy and the Heron,” animation maestro Miyazaki Hayao released what was billed as his final feature film – but, according to some local reports, he went straight back to work. A few weeks later, his Studio Ghibli put itself on a firmer financial footing, by selling a controlling share stake to Nippon Television.

On the debit side Japan and the festival noted the death of leading composer Sakamoto Ryuichi (biographical documentary “Opus” is playing in the festival) and the ongoing #MeToo reckoning claimed has claimed some painful scalps.

Still, the Tokyo festival expects to close on a home-grown high, with “Godzilla Minus One,” the 36th instalment in Toho’s “Gojira” franchise bringing the festival to a noisy and destructive end on a week on Wednesday.

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