Montreal, C'est Magnifique!

in 37th Montreal World Film Festival

by Akiko Kobari

The 37th Montreal World Film Festival, I heard “Montreal, C’est magnifique!!!” several times. Mr. Mitsutoshi Tanaka was also saying this as well when his film Ask This of Rikyu (Rikyu ni Tazuneyo, Japan, 2013) won the Best Artistic Contribution award.

The Japanese film Ask This of Rikyu was presented in the main competition. It tells the story of the 16th century famous tea master in Japan, Rikyu, the 16th century being an exciting time for Japan, the Japanese middle ages. It is a well-known fact that Rikyu killed himself and his life story has been the subject of many books, and this film is based on the eponymous novel by Ken-ichi Yamamoto, which won the Japanese Famous Novel Award, Naoki sanjyugo, in 2008, the Japanese Goncourt, so to speak. As an illustration of the brightness, released on screen by a great novel, it is enough to mention that Ken Takakura won the Montreal Film Festival Best Actor Award of 1999 for the main role in Railway Man (Poppo-ya, Yasuo Furuhata, Japan, 1999), based on the original novel of the same title by Jiro Asada, winner of the same literary award, Naoki sanjyugo.

In Ask This of Rikyu, Rentaro Mikuni plays Rikyu, and he has large shoes to fill after Toshiro Mifune played Rikyu in The Death of a Tea-Master (Sen no Rikyu: Honkakubô ibun, Kei Kumai, Japan, 1989). Ken Kumai (1930-2007) was such a successful director, because he based most of his films on sound literary sources. Deep River (Fukai kawa, Japan, 1995), for example, is one of his masterpieces. It is written by Shûsaku Endô, who also wrote The Sea and Poison (Umi to dokuyaku), yet another famous work byKen Kumai, which immediately preceded his better known The Death of a Tea-Master. Maybe because it was inspired by the Kabuki tradition from the 17th century Japan, which has also inspired a large number of Japanese movies, like The Man Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Tora no o wo fumu otoko tachi, Japan, 1945), the third film by Akira Kurosawa, which tells the story of one of the eighteen Kabuki performances of Narita-ya Family since 1702 (actually, if one wants to know Kabuki, one should ask Andrzej Wajda!). Actors, called Ebizo Ichikawa, a stage name taken on by a series of Kabuki actors of the Ichikawa and especially of its Narita-ya lineage, also played Rikyu in a Kabuki style that has been passed from generation to generation.

Another Japanese film, presented at the Montreal FF Focus on World Cinema selection, was The Flower of Shanidar (Shanidar no Hana, Japan, 2013) by Gakuryu (Sogo) Ishii. Here is what Mr. Ishii told me: “My international career began in 1985 and this is my second time in Montréal. The first time around was 28 years ago, when I came here with my film The Crazy Family (Gyakufunsha kazoku, Japan, 1984). When I was in my twenties, I described the Japanese family’s style, and now, I am describing Japanese lonely hearts. The crack of the heart becomes a flower.” Mr Ishii’s stay was very short, only two nights in Montreal. One week before the festival, his father passed away, but he never canceled.

Masahide Ichii’s Blindly in Love (Hako iri musuko no koi, 2013), also included in the Focus on World Cinema section, is a story about Japanese Romeo and Juliet, I believe. It reminded me of the famous balcony scene in Verona. There is no Sergei Prokofiev’s music, however, only a Frog’s voice that was listened to. That is, Romeo’s face looked like a frog’s. As Mr Ichii told me: “I am so happy at FFM. But am unlucky as I could not meet Mr.Gakuryu Ishii. When I won at the PIA Film Festival 2008 in Japan, Mr Ishii was member of the jury, so I was looking forward to saying him ‘thank you!’ in Montreal.”

Case of Kyoko Case of Shuichi (Kyoko to Shuici no Ba-ai, Japan, 2013), the third Japanese movie from Focus on World Cinema selection, is directed by Eiji Okuda. Before FFM, I met Mr Okuda in Tokyo. “On New Year’s 2012, I visited Minamisanriku which was largely destroyed by the 2011 Tsunami, leaving a trail of destruction and death. When I was there, I decided to make new film, as soon as possible.” One month later, Okuda was there again with his camera.

I went to see 44th Canadian Student Film Festival at Quarter Latin, and thought that Maple Syrup by Yoshino Aoki was so pretty! This animation movie is just 1 minute, and was a truly Canadian surprise for a Japanese!

When you come to think of this, the only Japanese film to win the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, Yojiro Takita’s Departures (Okuribito, Japan, 2008) began its successful career at the Montreal FF in 2008! Sometimes I think that every Film Festival looks like a Wonderland. When I arrive at a Festival, I usually am alone. But, when I leave it, I have acquired a lot of memories, many new friends. And I feel so happy. Montreal, c’etait vraiment magnifique!

Edited by Christina Stojanova