Monday, July 03, 2006

Saraba, TIFF 2006: Good riddance?

The Kinejapan email discussion list has been rife with tales of backstage intrigue at the Tokyo International Film Festival, which lowered its curtain last Sunday for another year and perhaps the last time in its current incarnation. The Japanese government, or more specifically the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) via film promotion body Unijapan, wants to use it as a tentpole for a "contents" jamboree encompassing video games, anime, and other image-based media; a move that critics say could compromise TIFF's integrity as Japan's premiere film showcase. But anyone who has attended or even just browsed the programme in recent years must surely be aware that its credibility as an international cinema event has been in question for some time now, a fact that was only emphasised by the nature of this year's awards ceremony which by all accounts was marked by the kind of odd choices characteristic of its programming.

Not having seen any of the competition films myself, I can't offer any worthwhile comment on the quality or otherwise of the lineup, so I'll defer to the words of Miyazaki Yosuke in part one of the Asahi Shinbun's TIFF 2006 roundup.

At the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival which came to a close on the 29th, a most unlikely French comedy, "OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies", an abundantly parodic 'pure entertainment film', picked up the top award. One juror even went so far as to say that none of the International Competition selections made an impression. That disarray was continued on the administrative side.

With the announcement of "OSS"'s Grand Prix win at the award ceremony, a surprised stir spread through the crowd. The reason for this was that seven newspaper writers keeping a score chart had given the film an average of 2.4 out of a possible five points, ranking it the lowest out of the 15 films in competition.

The film is set in Cairo in the 1950s. A heavily pomaded, smartly besuited spy beds and dances extravagantly with a royal beauty. However, in actual fact he is somewhat less than suave. The secret base is a poultry farm, the hero slips free from his bindings despite being dunked in the sea, the backgrounds are obviously composites, and there's even a cheapo action sequence where chickens are thrown as weapons.

"Setting it in the present would have made it too much like a comic, so we set it in the 50s, and thoroughly lampooned old spy films", explained director Michel Hazanavicius after the film's screening on the 25th. On being awarded the Grand Prix, he was obviously thrown for a loop. "I'm amazed that a comedy film would be awarded the top prize. If a comedy was going to win, I thought it would have been 'Little Miss Sunshine'" (which won for Best Director, Best Actress, and the Audience Award).

Juror Garin Nugroho pointed out "That none of the 15 films stood out is problematic".

Regarding "OSS", juror Bill Mechanic offered his ironic appraisal. "While it's artistic, it's also enjoyable entertainment, without any bite." But does that qualify as originality?

"The choice of 'OSS' could perhaps have been a gesture of protest by the jurors at the low quality of the competition films", suggested one foreign journalist .

At the press conference after the awards ceremony, few questions were posed despite the awarding of the Grand Prix. Furthermore, the director himself requested that no questions be asked of him due to the hoarseness of his voice, turning the conference into a strange, somewhat defensive affair.

There were other unforeseen occurrences besides the nature of the films.

The only actor on the jury, Kudoh Youki, was absent from the award ceremony and press conference due to "a film shoot overseas", thus her views on the films and message to the audience went unheard. It seemed to be a sign of the festival's insubstantial status.

Elsewhere, the winner of the "Winds of Asia" section was the first film to simultaneously win the International Competition's Award for Best Artistic Contribution, and the director said he had only learned of the festival's system of 'straddling categories' the day before. Some jurors also had strong reservations about films selected by differing judges and criteria being made to compete on the same stage.

"We humbly accept the criticism. We want to keep deepen discussion from now on", said International Competition programme director Tanaka Chiseko.

Including the sudden switch of International Competition Jury President from Claude Lelouch to Jean-Pierre Jeunet immediately before the opening of the festival, the messiness of the festival's International Competition, its 'face', left a bad aftertaste. (source: Asahi Shinbun)

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