Okinawa International Movie Festival (OIMF) is now in its sixth installment, and falling when it does—just ahead of cherry blossom season in Tokyo—it’s a great escape for some fun in the sun. The event is organized by Yoshimoto Kogyo, Japan’s largest entertainment agency and home of most of the biggest names in Japanese comedy. With this backing, there are more than just movies on offer: comedians, pop stars and models all head down south for the five-day extravaganza.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Main Image: The Grand Prize Winner, One Third (Sanbun no ichi)
Under the slogan “All Things Great in All the Islands!” the festival puts the spotlight on the people of Okinawa. Most of the events and screenings are free and a shuttle bus runs between the festival site and locations around the main island, making for a festival that’s always swarming with young fans checking out the entertainments on offer. With two red carpet events this year, there was plenty of opportunity to catch a glimpse of the festival’s stars. Jackass prankster Johnny Knoxville was the biggest international guest to appear but the wildest reaction was saved for hot young actor Masaki Okada, star of TV’s Legal High. Nine-year-old actress Mana Ashida also proved popular—the little star rose to fame on television but will be familiar to western audiences for her appearance in last year’s sci-fi blockbuster Pacific Rim. A few dozen idols could also be seen filling out the red carpet and stage with the girls of NMB48 leading the way, returning to the festival for the second time.
In terms of film, this festival has always leaned towards the mainstream, a festival for the people as opposed to the more serious cinephile. That’s not to say there aren’t some gems on offer, and with any festival it’s a great chance to see English-subtitled world-cinema and premieres of some of the bigger Japanese films that will be hitting cinema screens soon. South Korean hits Mr. Go, the story of a baseball playing gorilla, and Miss Granny played alongside some European offerings, leaving room for a host of Japanese entries—both independent fare and more major productions.
With a packed schedule, there’s more than can possibly seen by one person. The following are a few of the film highlights from last week’s event.
The eventual winner of the festival’s grand prize, the Golden Shisa Award, One Third will go on general release on April 1. Tatsuya Fujiwara (Battle Royale, Shield of Straw) stars as Shu, the manager of a hostess club who robs a bank to escape a debt. Holed up after the robbery, Shu and his accomplices fight over the money as more and more characters come into play and double-cross and deceit are piled one on top of the other. Tarantino is referenced by both the characters and in the flashback structure of comedian and director Hiroshi Shinagawa’s twisting, layered thriller that’s held together by a strong cast and some pitch-black comedy.
At a size of 26.65m × 14.76m, the “Cine Screen 400” is the world’s largest mobile open-air screen; it was transported from Switzerland to be set up for the Okinawan festival. What better way to watch Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning space masterpiece than on the beach at night, with the sound of the waves adding ambience and the stars stretching the screen out to infinity. The film needs little introduction by now, but it was a unique spectacle and a truly incredible way to open the festival.
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats
Entered into the “Peace” category of the competition, this film really sums up the spirit of the festival: it’s a wonderfully warm comedy with a heart of gold. Popular comedienne Miyuki Oshima swaps gender to play Tatsuo Fukuda, a painter living in a run-down Tokyo apartment. Fuku-chan brings the lonely people in his building together but is secretly lonely himself—a crushing incident in his past prevents him from forming romantic relationships. When the architect of this past humiliation re-enters his life, Fuku-chan is given a chance to turn things around, and possibly find the love he’s been wanting all along. The vocal reaction from a typically restrained Japanese audience was a testament to the movie’s quality.
After becoming a huge success in its native South Korea, this hugely enjoyable fantasy comedy created a word-of-mouth buzz amongst the press in at the festival. The film opens with 74-year old Oh Mal-soon, a crotchety old widow who causes trouble wherever she goes with her stubborn, bad-tempered ways. The fun starts when Mal-soon enters a photo studio and magically exits in the body of her twenty-year-old self. Shim Eun-kyung gives a hilarious performance as a young woman with all the tics and mannerisms of a troublesome old lady as she gets a second chance to live the dreams of her youth. Miss Granny is a brilliantly funny and imaginative comedy that’s worth keeping an eye out for.
This superhero comedy looked interesting but it turned out all the best jokes were in the trailer. It’s well made and likeable, but the ideas have been seen before. Danish filmmaker Ask Hasselbalch directs young Oscar Dietz as Pelle, a distinctly average little boy who gains super powers after being bitten by a genetically modified ant. Antboy must find the courage to become a real hero to defeat the villainous Flea and win the heart of his schoolgirl crush. Nice performances from the young cast and some neat touches make this fun for the children, even if it lacks the originality to keep the adults entertained.
All images courtesy of OIMF.