Dining with Geisha and Delving Into Kyoto’s Cinematic History at the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival

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Popular actor Tadanobu Asano picked up the Toshiro Mifune Award at this year’s Kyoto International Film and Art Festival. The 43-year-old, who has appeared in Zatoichi, 47 Ronin and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, was honored to receive the prize that is named after one of Japan’s best-known and most iconic actors of all time.

“I am truly delighted to get the great Toshiro Mifune Award,” Asano said during the opening ceremony. “There has often been a conflict in my mind and though I never met Mifune, I have sometimes looked for him in my heart. It’s my own feeling, but to me Mifune replies and that for me is enough. I want to continue working hard so I can become a top actor like him. I’m so happy. This is just the best.”

The other big winner at the ceremony, which took place at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Nishi Honganji temple, was Jiro Shindo who took home the Shozo Makino Award, named after the pioneering filmmaker who directed the 1928 epic Jitsuroku Chushingura. Shindo is a prolific movie producer known for works such as The Strange Tale of Oyuki and Ichimai no Hagaki.

As well as the awards and the various screenings, the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival is also a celebration of the cultural splendors of Japan’s old capital. Sponsors of the event Yoshimoto Kogyo pull out all the stops to ensure its foreign guests have a special experience throughout the event. Here’s a look at our favorite moments from the long weekend.

Dining with Geisha

The highlight of the festival was a memorable evening at the 160-year-old ryokan Kyoto Hachi spent sipping champagne and eating a truly magnificent kaiseki course dinner in the company of two geisha (or geiko as they are officially known in Kyoto) and one maiko (apprentice geiko). The female entertainers, who are shrouded in mystery and misconception, sat down with us and spoke a little bit about their daily lives. The food, from the freshest sashimi to the most succulent beef, was all divine. As the meal finished there was just a little time to sit and reflect on what was a truly wonderful evening while overlooking the idyllic atrium garden.

Dorobo Yakusha (The Stand-in Thief)

A funny and at times moving story about a burglary gone wrong, The Stand-in Thief was the pick of the movies we saw at the festival. Kanjani Eight member Ryuhei Maruyama stars as the reformed criminal Hajime Onuki who is blackmailed into one last job by former partner in crime Norio Hatakeyama (Daisuke Miyagawa). During the break-in they are interrupted by guests, which leads to all kinds of cases of mistaken identity. Veteran actor Masachika Ichimura puts in a fantastic performance as Shuntaro Maezono, the victim of the robbery, who happens to be a famous author of children’s books in need of some creative help. Originally a play, The Stand-in Thief was written and directed by Masafumi Nishida.

Hibana (Spark)

Following the success of last year’s original Netflix drama series Hibana, it was decided that a movie version should be made. Based on Naoki Matayoshi’s Akutagawa prize-winning novel it tells the story of two comedians as they struggle to climb their way up in the manzai world. Comedian Itsuji Itao took up directing responsibilities, creating a feature film that is darker and more thought-provoking than the ten-episode series. Talented actor Masaki Suda plays the lead role of Tokunaga. A rising star in Japan, he was last year named as one of GQ’s Men of the Year.

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Yoshimoto Comedians and the UN: A Unique Collaboration

An entertaining mix of comedy and education at Yoshimoto’s Gion Kagetsu Theater kicked off with some manzai acts and one solo comedian taking to the stage to see who could impress the three judges the most. As part of their acts they had to include lines about three of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at improving the environment and creating a better life for all citizens. Speaking at the event Kaoru Nemoto, director of the UN Information Center in Tokyo, said “We hope to spread the message through laughter, because only announcing things from the UN it is hard. Comedy we feel can be a way to reach the audience better.” The manzai competition was followed by shinkigeki (Yoshimoto New Comedy Troupe) starring Suchi and her famous nipple drill routine.

Exploring the “Hollywood of Japan”

Up until the 1960s when the film industry started to decline in this country, Kyoto was known as the “Hollywood of Japan.” To honor its proud history, Toei Studios decided to open up some of its sets to the public in 1975. More than 40 years on and many jidaigeki (period dramas) are still filmed there. Known as Toei Uzumasa Eigamura, it’s effectively a movie location and theme park all rolled into one that looks like a small town from the Edo Period. Throughout the day there are all kinds of special performances including ninja and samurai shows. There’s a haunted house, a Trick Art Museum and a 3D Theater so it was well worth the visit, despite the rain.

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