Regular readers might know that I set up this blog to review Japanese films and track my journey to Japan. Nearly six years after starting out I have made it to Japan. I am on a working holiday and have been in the country since September 10th but I haven’t had the chance or motivation to write anything. Instead, I have been out and about exploring places, trying things out, eating new food, and making friends. I have travelled from Osaka to Tokyo to Yokohama to other places in Kanagawa and Gunma. I am only just getting started since I have around ten months left in my working holiday. I timed my working holiday to take in as many film festivals as I possibly could. The first film festival I went to was the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).
The Tokyo International Film Festival was pretty awesome. I was there for four days and three films. It takes place in the rather upmarket area of Roppongi and the films I watched were in two locations – Toho Cinemas in Roppongi Hills and Ex Theater Roppongi. Both cinemas are earthquake-proof (as was constantly announced before film screenings) and look really cool – space-age structures of glass and steel and cool lighting.
The seats are super comfortable and the cinemas are huge and can fit lots of people. There’s also a stage in front of the screen which is perfect for the Q&As that normally follow.
I saw three films at this festival:
I would have seen more but tickets sold out quickly at many screenings so it’s a good idea t book online on the day they are released or go down to the box office early.
This festival is the best chance for people who don’t speak Japanese to watch films with subtitles since regular cinemas don’t do them. I have watched a couple of films without subs – Scoop! At the Kichijoji Odeon and Hana’s Miso Soup at the Tokyo Food Festival – and found that while fun and interesting, I missed he finer details. Not so with TIFF where subtitles and translators are on hand. The festival is staffed by an army of staff and volunteers (including English-language speakers) who make sure things run like clockwork. I think it’s a particularly Japanese thing where you have so many people sent to do all jobs conceivable including watching over festival-goers and guiding them, shouting our directions to ticket booths etc, This was vital for people who don’t speak top-tier Japanese.
Each of the screenings I went to catered to English-language speakers and there were staff members willing to speak English around which is vital for the Q&As. At one screening, a translator sat next to me and gave me the entire Q&A between Shunji Iwai and a film critic. At another screening I had an ear piece and a translator on stage did a fine job of conveying the conversation between the director Mipo Oh and another film academic.
I had hoped to take part as a volunteer but ended up going as an audience member and sitting with the press and watching the films on huge screens. This paid off because I got to sit close (oh so close!!!) to two of my favourite directors – Shunji Iwai, director of The Bride of Rip Van Winkle, and Mipo Oh, director of The Light Shines Only There. I was able to take photographs and record videos but due to the lighting the pictures I took are blown-out in areas. I have the memories at least and, more importantly, I made friends and now I have something special lined up for next year thanks to them.
This was my first film festival in Japan and it went smoothly for the most part especially since the majority of the festival always takes place in Roppongi. Here’s some travel advice. You can reach it via the Oedo and the Hibiya subway lines. These lines run through major stations like Tokyo, Ginza, and Shinjuku. You can also use other lines such as the Chiyoda and Marunouchi but you will have to transfer at Kasumigaseki or another station a couple of stops away. That’s what I had to do since I am in Asagaya.
Roppongi station has exits that lead directly out into Roppongi Hills via a large escalator or a street exit which is five minutes away from Ex Theater Roppongi. Like most JR and Tokyo Metro stations, there’s a lot of retail stores attached to the station.
The subway/railway system in Tokyo is extensive and easy to use so I recommend getting a Suica card. Suica is an IC card that works across the entirety of Japan and can be used to ride buses, trains, and subways systems and it can be used to pay for goods and services. It also has a cute penguin on it if you still need convincing! The only downside is that you will spend so much money on it because it is so convenient.
If you want to eat then you can try any of the restaurants or, if you want to play it safe, there’s are McDonald’s and Starbucks in the area. Both places offer free wi-fi.
Roppongi is a pretty lively place and the Hills tend to be the focus of many events such as parades and art exhibitions. I went there on my second day in Japan to view the Ghibli expo in the Mori Tower, a huge structure that acted as the HQ for the TIFF. You can get impressive views of the city from there.
I hope to have reviews of the films I saw released over the next couple of weeks. I just need to write them.
Here are some more pictures from the festival and Roppongi. Next up is Tokyo FILMeX.