Tokyo International Film Festival Wrap-up

     October 25, 2009

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The Tokyo International Film Festival closed today with a screening of “Cranky Grandfather ‘s Flying House.” After the Japanese premiere of Pixar’s “Up” was over it was time for the awards. Similarly to the opening events, the closing ceremony was efficient and to the point. No drawn out speeches, stilted jokes or time wasted. Sadly, however, there was no Hugh Jackman either. And while the absence of the sexiest Aussie this side of Naomi Watts was keenly felt, the awards went off with out a hitch. Highlight of the night-the winning film in the environmentally themed competition winning a Green Globe. And said enviro-competition being sponsored by a car company, Toyota. For the full awards rundown and a mini-review of the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix winning film hit the jump.

The descriptions are taken from the official TIFF guide. Without further ado:

Japanese Eyes Competition: “Live Tape” dir. Tetsuaki Matsue

A live documentary shot in a single 74-minute continuous take on New Year’s Day 2009. Musician Kenta Maeno strums his guitar and sings in a pilgrimage from Kichijoji Hachiman Shrine, packed with people paying respects for the New Year, to Inokashira Park, where he joins his band on the outdoor stage.

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Winds of Asia Competition: “A Brand New Life” dir. Ounie Lecomte

1975. 9-year-old Jinhee is entrusted by her father to an orphanage run by Catholic nuns.Jinhee’s time at the orphanage will be one of multiple and permanent separations, of barely forged bonds destined to be shattered.

Toyota Earth Grand Prix (because why wouldn’t a car company sponsor the enviro-themed competition?): “Wolf” dir. Nicolas Vanier

Awarded with a title of a reindeer herdsman, sixteen-year-old Serge? joins the summer cattle drive across the Siberian pastures but he must confront the bitterest enemy, wolf, to successfully protect their prize reindeer.

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Audience Award: “The Trotsky” dir. Jacob Tierney

A piquant adolescent comedy about a boy who believes he is a reincarnation of Trotsky, and attempts to reform his school. Leon quickly lends new meaning to the term “student union”, determined as he is to live out his pre-ordained destiny to the fullest and change the world.

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Special Jury Prize: “Rabia” dir. Sebastian Cordero

An immigrant construction worker, José María, commits murder and flees to a run-down mansion owned by an elderly couple where his girl friend, Rosa, works as a housemaid. Hiding in the vast, abandoned attic he begins a secret life – half voyeur, half ghost – watching the daily routines of Rosa’s life. He calls her on the phone without revealing himself and starts a new ‘long distance’ relationship, both yearning for the day when they can be together again. But a shocking revelation forces him to remain in hiding…

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Best Actress: Julie Gayet “Eight Times Up”

A woman loses her job and apartment, but strives to carry on with her life. Tempted to leave everything behind, she does to a forest where her unemployed neighbor, Mathieu has found refuge and set up his camp. For a time they live apart from civilization, but they both know that one day they will have to come back and confront the world, or leave it for good.

Best Actor: Christo Christov “Eastern Plays”

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Best Director: Kamen Kalev “Eastern Plays”

Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix Award: “Eastern Plays” dir. Kamen Kalev

Two brothers who have lost complete contact are suddenly brought together as opposite roles in a racist beating – Georgi as a new member of a neo-Nazi group, Itso who rescues the victimized Turkish family. Now asked to participate in larger events, Georgi starts to question his implication in the movement while Itso fancies the beautiful Turkish girl he saved would be his ticket out of his lone life. Only by living once again as brothers, will they find their aspirations in life.

“Eastern Plays” was praised by the head of the TIFF jury, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”) as having a “truthfulness” that is rare in cinema. He said that, when choosing the winning film, he and the other jury members were looking for a film that generated not only emotion but reflection as well. After seeing “Eastern Plays,” I would have to say that Inarritu chose well. Through the eyes of two brothers, one a recovering drug addict and alcoholic and the other still toying with the idea of his own descent, “Eastern Plays” provides an uncompromising look at the moments of racism, confusion, perseverance and hope that constitute life in Bulgaria.

The film is thematically and, in some cases, literally based on the life of Christo Christov who plays Itso, the older brother struggling with his inability to find the good in himself. Though a first-time actor, like much of the cast, Christov gives a very compelling portrayal of Itso/himself. Always teetering on the edge, his potential to free-fall is tensely coiled around the film and does not let go until the end. Tragically, Christov died in an accident shortly after filming but, as Kalev noted when remarking upon the Best Actor award Christov received, “it is a memory that we can create and perpetuate to keep his memory alive.”

After already being well-received at Cannes and Sarajevo, “Eastern Plays” may soon find its to America. If it does, try to check out the film that Inarritu cited as a “great gem.”

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