5th Okinawan International Movie Festival: The Opening Weekend

by Christopher O’Keeffe

The Okinawa International Movie Festival kicked off in style on Saturday with extravagant opening festivities and an open air screening of the newly released Jack the Giant Slayer.

The red carpet was rolled out with a beautiful Okinawan beach as its backdrop, along with the Cine Screen 400, the world’s largest mobile screen, imported specially from Locarno, in Switzerland. Clear skies and a blistering sun were on hand to mark the occasion. There was a wonderful atmosphere around the site which mounted throughout the day as fans gathered to see a host of Japanese comedians, pop stars, models and filmmakers walk the carpet.

The biggest cheer of the procession was saved for former AKB48 golden girl, Atsuko Maeda, who is here with her latest film The Complex, which had an Asian premiere on Sunday. Fellow pop-stars-turned-actors NMB48 and Alan Shirahama, here to promote Geinin! THE MOVIE and 7 days Report respectively, also proved popular.

It was good to see Sonny Chiba make an appearance and Jury president and big-time Hollywood director Joel Schumacher added some international stardust to proceedings. As the sun set over the ocean, fans took their seats in front of the enormous screen as the comedians warmed up the stage before the screening of the festival’s opening movie. That was the cue for this writer to sit back with a glass of Okianawa’s finest awamori and take in the view.

Saturday opened with a screening of the aforementioned The Complex. Directed by Hideo Nakata, the man behind Japanese horror classics Dark Water and The Ring series, the theatre was packed with children perhaps a little too young to be watching this type of thing, all waiting to see their AKB idol. Joining the actress on stage was the director and actor Hiroki Narimiya to talk a little about their film.

Atsuko Maeda and her co-star Hiroki Naruyama before going on stage

The competition section of this festival is unique as it’s spilt into two categories – ‘Laugh’ covering comedy and ‘Peace’ which deals with drama. Both sections were screening in the afternoon with the Australian comedy Mental representing the ‘Laugh’ category. This PJ Hogan directed feature sees the director team up with actress Toni Colette for the first time since his breakthrough hit Muriel’s Wedding in 1994. The film is based around true events in the director’s life when his father picked up a hitchhiker to serve as a nanny to seven children after his mother suffered a nervous breakdown. Colette plays the nanny, Shaz, alongside Anthony Lapaglia, Liev Schreiber and Australian star Rebecca Gibney, who was also on the red carpet on Saturday.

Drama was better represented with showings of new Japanese works, Jyoko Monogatari, based on a manga and autobiography of cartoonist Rieko Saibara, 7 days Report, a drama with a science fiction element bound to be popular due to Shirahama’s involvment, and Naitara Akande TSUTENKAKU an Osaka set drama based around a ramen shop.

Whichever programmer decided to put Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as the open-air evening screening on the beach deserves a medal. All in all it’s been a great opening weekend with the warmth, hospitality and incredible food of Okinawa complementing films perfectly.

Main Image – Jury members  Demon Kakka, Joel Schumacher, Mamoi Kaori and Calaude Gagnon (Photo: Christopher O’Keeffe)