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Tokyo film fest to emphasize eco theme, screen controversial ‘The Cove’

Tokyo International Film Festival
Tokyo International Film Festival
TOKYO (TR) – The 22nd Tokyo International Film Festival will continue its push for environmental awareness and screen the controversial documentary “The Cove,” a film which shows the butchering of dolphins in a small Japanese fishing town.

Fest chairman Tatsumi “Tom” Yoda said at a press luncheon on Thursday that it is very important for the festival to not only screen high-quality films from around the globe but to also educate the world about environmental issues.

“We live in this world together, and those of us in the film industry count on the environment — that is the message we want to send,” said Yoda at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Kicking off the event on October 17 is the documentary “Oceans” by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud. TIFF’s week-long run will feature roughly 130 films at theaters in the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo. The closer will be Pixar’s “Up,” an animated adventure up in the sky directed by Pete Docter.

“The ocean, the sea and the sky — I think that is very suitable for our basic strategy,” said Yoda of the two pictures that will bookend the event.

In competition will be four world premieres, including Jinsei Tsuji’s “Acacia,” starring famous ex-wrestler Antonio Inoki, “Manila Skies” by Raymond Red and “Snowfall in Taipei,” a Taiwanese love story by Huo Jianqi. The jury president will be director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”).

Twenty minutes of footage from “Avatar,” the James Cameron sci-fi feature in 3-D, and “Sideways,” a Japanese remake of the Alexander Payne story of love and wine in California, are slotted into the “Special Screenings” section.

Just as last year, the fest will push for ecological awareness via a “green carpet” at the opening ceremony, the use of recycled materials and the distribution of awards for non-competition films that evoke environmental themes.

“The Cove” had been widely reported to have been refused by TIFF, but it was confirmed just prior to the finalization of the lineup. The film, shot by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, displays footage of dolphins being corralled and then killed by sharpened poles in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. It has not yet been screened in Japan.

Regarding the documentary, the chairman said that TIFF very strongly believes in freedom of expression. “We were subjected to some criticism from some parts of the media about perhaps engaging in censorship,” he said. “I would like to make it absolutely clear that we do not censor any works in any way.”

Yet the film will be accompanied by a disclaimer that will not hold TIFF liable should any dispute arise during its screening.

Yoda noted that thirty percent of the event’s budget comes from government sources. The chairman does not expect the recent change to Japan’s political landscape — in which the Liberal Democratic Party was removed from power during last month’s lower house victory by the Democratic Party of Japan — to have an impact on TIFF’s budget allocation, adding that the fest should be able to maintain at least this year’s level of support going forward.

The arts, Yoda said, transcend political boundaries. “I believe very strongly that whether it is the LDP or the DPJ in power that culture is fundamentally non-partisan,” he said.