Marrakesh film festival swings the spotlight on Japan

AFP , Friday 12 Dec 2014

The 14th Marrakesh Film Festival in Morocco is paying tribute to Japan by showcasing a retrospective of 27 movies at an event traditionally dominated by Arab, French or American cinema.

"Along with American, French and Italian cinema, Japanese cinema is among the four that have established a cinematographic language," festival director Bruno Barde said.

"It is maybe even the biggest," he added at the onset of the nine-day festival that wraps on Sunday.

Takuya Misawa's debut feature "Chigasaki Story", a romantic comedy, is among 15 films vying for the top prize to be decided by a jury headed by French actress Isabelle Huppert.

A large Japanese delegation, led by director Hirokazu Koreeda, has travelled to Marrakesh, and many among them have expressed pride and also surprise that they were being honoured.

"This year, they paid tribute to Japanese cinema -- 27 Japanese films have been shown here. I think it is really impressive," said film-maker Hideo Nakata, who directed the 1998 cult horror film "Ring".

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who was honoured four years ago at Marrakesh with a personal tribute because of his work, remembers being told in 2010 that the festival planned to pay homage to Japanese film.

"I thought they were just being polite," he added with a smile.

Japanese films listed in the retrospective included Mikio Naruse's 1955 black-and-white "Floating Clouds" and Naomi Kawase's 2014 release "Still the Water".

Japanese animation films, which have won the country kudos around the world, are also being showcased. Among them is manga artist Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 fantasy movie "Spirited Away", his greatest commercial success.

The tribute to Japanese cinematography comes at a time when its industry is facing a box office crisis and struggling to win the trust of the West.

"In the past, Japanese cinema generated revenue," said Kurosawa.

"Today, this is no longer the case," added the director and university professor who said he encourages his students not to stick to "dogma" but to explore new methods.

"They should not feel that they must produce an artistic or a commercial film. They should explore intermediary tracks," he said.

Over the years, Japanese productions have earned major awards around the globe, and several have been nominated for prestigious Academy Awards in the foreign language film category.

Yojiro Takita's "Departures" won the Oscar in 2009, and in the early 1950s three Japanese movies won the Academy's Honorary Award, including Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" in 1952.

Japan's film industry was born in 1912 when several production companies and theatre chains merged and set up the country's first major film studio, the Nikkatsu Corporation.

Marrakesh festival director Barde said Nikkatsu's influence helped world cinema to develop, despite later developing a self-destructive tendency.

"The recent evolution of Japanese cinema is characterised by this notion of fragility," he said, citing influences on a country ravaged by two atomic bombs and the awesome power of nature in the form of devastating tsunamis and earthquakes.

In addition to honouring Japanese cinema, the Marrakesh festival this year also paid tribute to industry stalwarts including award-winning British actor Jeremy Irons and US star Viggo Mortensen.

At the launch of the event, a lifetime achievement award was presented to Egyptian actor and comedian Adel Imam, who has been in more than 100 films and is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

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