The Okinawa International Film Festival is about much more than just the movies. It’s a celebration of island life: the culture, the food, and of course the people – a four-day event full of color, creativity and warmth. Here’s our look back at it all, starting with the red carpet ceremony at Naminoue Beach.
Day 1: Huge numbers were in attendance to see a wide range of actors, comedians, producers and directors walk the red carpet on what was a sweltering day in Okinawa’s capital city. Actress and director Kaori Momoi was arguably the biggest name at the ceremony; however, it was multi-talented performer Sumire who seemed to garner most attention. Appearing alongside co-star Nanami and director Yoko Narahashi, she spent a long time engaging with fans and signing autographs for the locals. The three women were in attendance to promote the movie “Hold My Hand.” Following that event it was time to make a move to the Sakurazuka Theater, which was showing the first three episodes of “Hibana” (“Spark”). Based on Naoki Matayoshi’s Akutagawa Award–winning novel of the same name, it’s about a struggling and very serious looking comedian named Tokunaga who is struggling to get a break in the industry with his over-complicated act. Whilst a little slow-paced at times, it gives an intriguing insight into the harsh realities of life for an aspiring comedian and is a series definitely worth looking out for. The first episode is set to air on Netflix on June 3.
Day 2: The morning began with a gentle stroll around Fukushuen Garden, an idyllic setting with a large pond and waterfall as well as a number of pagodas, pavilions and bridges. Mixing Chinese and Okinawan architecture, it is a highly recommended destination if you are in central Naha and have a couple of hours spare. The movie of the day was Justin Kurzel’s modern adaption of the Shakespeare play “Macbeth.” It is filmed predominantly in the misty, medieval-like Isle of Skye – just off Scotland’s west coast – and the cinematography is simply stunning, as is the performance of lead actor Michael Fassbender, who was born to play a complex, tormented character like Macbeth. He is also brilliantly supported by Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. One of the best Shakespeare adaptations for a long time, it will be out in Japan this summer. After the film there was time for a group interview with Netflix Japan President Greg Peters who spoke about working with content creators in this country to connect them with a global audience. It was then time to enjoy some local food and drinks at the OIMF8 party alongside a number of esteemed guests.
Day 3: Japanese films were the focus of the third day beginning with Yoko Narahashi’s “Hold My Hand.” A heartwarming tale about a disabled man’s journey from Amanohashidate in Kyoto to Ise Shrine, it stars Jay Kabira, Sumire and Nanami. For Narahashi – who helped launch the Hollywood careers of people like Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi – it was an emotional movie to make following the death of Masayuki Imai last May. The playwright had written the story and was supposed to play the lead in it, but had to pull out as his condition deteriorated due to colon cancer. His good friend Kabira took over the role and didn’t disappoint with a moving and realistic performance. The next movie was “Hee” by Kaori Momoi. Best known for her appearance in “Memoirs of a Geisha” and those SKII commercials, she both directed and starred in the film as Azusa, an aging prostitute and psychiatric patient who is fascinated by fire. Shot at Momoi’s home in LA, it has a documentary-like feel to it, with the main character speaking directly to the camera in many scenes. Hee first premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and will be at cinemas in Japan from August.
Day 4: Another red carpet event, this time on Kokusai Dori, and once again it attracted huge numbers. Guests included comedian Naomi Watanabe and successful pop group NMB48. Once that was over much of the foreign press went to watch Sri Lankan film “Alone in a Valley” by Bodee Keerthisena; however, we decided to use this time to do a bit of sightseeing. First up was the World Heritage Site Sefa-utaki, a sacred location on a densely forested hillside near the ocean that has a real spiritual feel to it. After that it was the touristy theme park Okinawa World. The main attraction there is a huge natural cave with breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites. There was also a chance to have a look at the snake museum and craft village. It was then a taxi ride back to Naminoue Beach for the closing ceremony: an open-air concert with local acts such as Kariyushi 58. The torrential downpour did little to dampen the spectators’ enthusiasm. Over the four days it is estimated that around 350,000 people attended the festival, with 80,000 at the two red carpet events. Seventy-five movies were screened in total and ¥8.8 million in prize money was awarded. More than ¥470,000 was also raised for the Kumamoto earthquake.
For more information about the Okinawa International Movie Festival, visit http://oimf.jp/en/.