LA Eigafest 2013 opening night

Summary of LA Eigafest 2013 opening night.

Since 2011, the Japanese film society has hosted a film festival in in Los Angeles, called LA Eigafest. The goal of the festival is to show case the latest in Japanese films to Hollywood. It lasts three days and in addition to the films the festival shows in theaters, there is a business panel where they discuss issues that deal with business between Japanese and US film companies. In 2011, the event occurred at Grumman’s Chinese Theater while in 2012 and this year, the event moved to the Egyptian Theater.

This year, LA Eigafest showed twelve feature films along with ten short films, and four episodes from two different anime series. It ran from Dec. 6 to Dec8. Amongst those films were the US premiere of a remake of Clint Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven, which was the opening film to the festival and Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, “THE WIND RISES (Kaze Tachinu)” which would be screened twice with one on Dec. 7 and the other on Dec. 8. Amongst the cast for Unforgiven (YURUSAREZARUMONO) was Ken Watanabe, who had previously worked on Clint Eastwood’s film LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Iōjima Kara no Tegami) as well as the films THE LAST SAMURAI, INCEPTION, and BATMAN BEGINS. He is set to participate in the new Godzilla movie from Legendary Pictures and Akira Emoto, who had previous worked on films such as JAPAN SINKS (Nihon Chinbotsu) and GODZILLA VS. SPACE-GODZILLA (Gojira tai SupēsuGojira).

The opening night kicked off in the evening between 6:00 and 6:30pm as the guests began to check in. While some headed into the theater to escape the cold weather, most of the others remained outside to view the arrival of the guests which arrived shortly afterwards in stages. Amongst the guests arriving were at least two familiar faces from last year’s LA Eigafest. The surprise guests for the evening was Ken Watanabe himself (although LA Eigafest had published just a few days before that he was going to be present) along with American director Oliver Stone, who arrived shortly with no announcements before Watanabe. While out there, I talked with several of the guests as well as some of the audience with a few of them recognizing me from other events, particularly Anime Expo, an event that is held every July at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Once nearly everyone was inside the theater, festival kicked up with a performance by taiko drummers before the two hosts for the evening (Hazuki Kato and Andrew O’Neal) took to the stage. After exchanging small banter, the hosts then introduced to the audience Jun Niimi, the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and Hayato Mitsushi who is the president and Co-Founder of the Japan Film Society. Mr. Niimi discussed the consulate’s support of the organization and the festival over the years along with his own experiences about living in Los Angeles since taking up the post a few years ago. Mitsushi described his own experiences of starting up and running the film festival along with his favorable impressions of the nearly full house. After the two men took their seats, the hosts then brought up Watanabe along with one of the producers as well as the film’s director Lee Sang-il. They talked for a bit about their experiences on the film particularly on adapting some of the elements in Clint Eastwood’s version of Unforgiven to the setting of their film.

Instead of taking place in the Wild West, the film takes place in Hokkaido in the aftermath of the Boshin War and in the midst of the beginnings of the Meiji era of Japan. In this setting, Ken Watanabe plays the main character Jubei, who was a former solider in the shogunate. Fleeing to Hokkaido with many other former shogunate soldiers, Jubei eventually settles down, marries, and swears off alcohol and killing. However a combination of his family’s desperate financial situation along with a request for assistance by an old comrade, drives Jubei to consider picking up the sword again as he realizes that he cannot escape his bloodstained past.

On the film itself, it has excellent use of the scenery in Hokkaido. In terms of the actors, Watanabe and Emoto turn in good performances along with Koichi Sato who played the main villain in the movie. Some portions of the movie seemed a bit longer than necessary. As for the atmosphere and tone of the movie, it was somewhat dark and heavy with the music adding to the melancholy tone of the movie. I had not seen the original Unforgiven in a very long time though so I really could not make an accurate comparison between the two versions. From what I could gather, the opinion of the film was that it was good though there were some aspects of it that seemed plodding to the audience.

As the end credits rolled, some people headed out to the main lobby where the after dinner party was already setting up while most of the others stayed to observe the Q and A session on Unforgiven. Not surprisingly, the question of whether Clint Eastwood had seen the film had come up with everyone remaining mostly quiet on the subject. Occasionally I stepped back into the Q and A to listen to it a bit but mainly headed outside where I talked for a small bit with Mr. Oliver Stone, which mainly dealt with the surprise of seeing a prestigious director attending the film festival. Finally, I settled down to enjoy dinner and conversed with several other people who had been in the audience and enjoying the food with a large portion of it coming from the Japanese restaurant Tusjita LA Artisan Noodle. The reaction of the audience was the same as mine with others liking it more than I did and vice versa with some of the recommending watching the original Unforgiven for a better comparison. Other matters discussed included inquiring about some of the upcoming projects that they had as some in the audience were filmmakers themselves with one or two of them having a presentation in the short film category at the film festival. For the food, I went in for two rounds, which consisted mainly of noodles, rice, seafood and soup along with sampling some of the drinks they had at the party.

Several of the regular guests in the audience were familiar, as I had seen them at LA Eigafest 2012 and another Asian film festival that took place in the summer of that year. After finishing up on some of the food as well as exchanging greeting with several familiar faces including Mr. Mitsushi before departing the festival for the evening. I did inquire for a bit about LA Eigafest’s plans for next year and let slip the fact that 2014 was the 60th anniversary of the Godzilla series as well as perhaps Kurosawa’s greatest film, “Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai).”

I had planned to attend several other events and had considered going to see “The Wind Rises” but unfortunately, I could not as my schedule prevented me from taking advantage of doing so of which I was not happy with the situation that but had to settle for next year where hopefully I can attend in a more fuller capacity.

Trailer for Japanese remake of Unforgiven

Trailer for The Wind Rises

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