AFM /AFI FEST REPORT #1: ASIAN GENRE FILMS PROMOTED AT THE AMERICAN FILM MARKET AND AFI FEST
Since 1981, the Independent Film and Television Alliance has hosted an annual motion picture trade show in Santa Monica, CA called the American Film Market (AFM). For eight days every year, the 32 theater screens on and surrounding Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade are used for more than 900 screenings of 589 different films from around the world; an average of 31 new films every two hours. Titles shown range from high budget releases by the big US studios, to major foreign films, to lower budget art and genre movies. While AFM is one of the few— if not the only— places these movies are shown in the US, it is not a traditional film festival and is not open to the general public. The event was created for film companies to introduce their movies to a wide range of international buyers and distributors so only industry personnel and invited guests can attend most screenings.
In 2004, AFM began a partnership with the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest, an annual film festival held at the ArcLight Theatre and Cineramadome in Hollywood. AFI Fest is open to the public, and attendees have an opportunity to choose from more than 120 movies from nearly 50 countries.
This year marks the 27th American Film Market (running November 1-8) and the 20th AFI Fest (November 1-12). The two events have drawn hundreds of motion picture companies and over 8,000 acquisition and development execs, producers, distributors, agents, attorneys, buyers, and film financiers from around the globe, with general attendance expected to top 60,000.
As in years past, a number of Asian films are being promoted. AFM’s 2006 schedule includes 46 screenings of 30 new Japanese films, while dozens more are pitched to investors and foreign distributors. The five big Japanese studios— Toho, Toei, Shochiku, Nikkatsu and Kadokawa— are at the event, along with the Tokyo Broadcasting System, Nippon Television Network, Micott and Basara, Pony Canyon, Eleven Arts, Monte Cristo International, Open Sesame, Eleven Arts, and Horizon Entertainment. Several companies (including Celestial Pictures) are advertising Chinese films. South Korean cinema is a strong presence this year: AFM has the first screening anywhere for the long awaited D-WAR, and the “buzz” film at AFI is the acclaimed monster movie THE HOST. Both screenings of THE HOST sold out with long standby lines for any unused tickets.
This month SciFi Japan will present a series of reports on some of the movies featured at the 2006 American Film Market and AFI Fest. First up is Toho’s A HEARTFUL OF LOVE, and please check back in the coming days for coverage of SINKING OF JAPAN, THE HOST, DEATH NOTE, and D-WAR.
SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains plot details for a new Japanese film.
A HEARTFUL OF LOVE (Kono Mune Ippai no Ai Wo)
Domestic Distribution: Toho Co., Ltd, Released October 8, 2005
International Sales: Toho International Co., Ltd.
Japanese with English Subtitles, 101 minutes
Official Site: Kono-ai.com
All photos © 2005 Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc./Toho Co., Ltd./Mainich Broadcasting System, Inc./Tokyo Asahi Shimbun Service Anchor Federation/Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Co., Ltd./Shogakukan Inc./WOWOW Inc./Nippon Shuppan Hanbai Inc./Geneon Entertainment Inc./Levie Plus Co., Ltd./SDP Inc./ Twins Japan/IMJ Entertainment Corp.
Promoted at 2006 AFM; 2005 AFM Screening Thursday, November 3, 5:00pm at AMC Theatres Santa Monica Seven
From 2002 to 2004, the American Film Market hosted the first US screening of the latest Godzilla movie as Toho introduced the films to foreign buyers. Since the monster’s retirement in the wake of GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, the studio’s international department has focused on promoting a mix of recent releases. The 2006 lineup includes the comedic mystery TRICK: THE MOVIE 2 (2006), the romance ROUGH (2006), the brand-new CHRISTMAS ON JULY 24th AVENUE (7 Gatsu 24 ka Dori no Kurisumasu, 2006), and A HEARTFUL OF LOVE, which was screened at last year’s show. While the film’s title may lead one to expect a standard romantic melodrama, A HEARTFUL OF LOVE is a well-crafted fantasy tale that contains a number of sf elements, including time travel.
The main character is Hiroshi Suzutani (played by Hideaki Ito), a 30 year-old advertising executive who returns on business to his childhood hometown of Moji in Kyushu. Also on the airplane are an elderly blind woman, a skittish college professor (Kankuro Kudo), and a 19 year-old yakuza thug named Nunokawa (Ryo Katsuji) who is hiding out following a failed hit assignment. Visiting Moji for the first time in decades, Hiroshi discovers that the port city is exactly as he remembers it; the buildings, the narrow streets, and even the inn his grandmother once owned are completely unchanged. While standing outside his old home, Hiroshi encounters a young boy and is stunned to see it is his 10 year-old self, Hiro (Ryo Tomioka).
As he recovers from his shock at a nearby restaurant, Hiroshi is tracked down by Nunokawa. The pair attempt to piece things together and soon realize they’ve somehow been transported back in time twenty years. With no idea of how they ended up in 1986 or how they will return to 2006, the two realize there’s nothing they can do but settle in and make the most of their circumstances. Nunokawa returns to his criminal roots and Hiroshi takes a job at the inn, rooming with his younger self. The boy Hiro is initially distrustful of the strange man who knows such much about his inner thoughts and feelings, but gradually the two develop a strong bond of trust. Hiroshi also delights in spending time with his unsuspecting grandmother (Chieko Baisho) and a beautiful young violinist named Kazumi (Mimula) who befriended him as a child but had died from a mysterious illness.
During one of their periodic meetings, Hiroshi and Nunakawa are approached by the professor who had been on their flight. The professor tells them that he had found the old blind woman, and she literally faded away before his eyes after correcting a situation she had regretted for decades. The three decide that fixing their own pasts is the key to returning to 2006. Hiroshi knows that Kazumi will soon die from a mysterious illness and he must now convince her to have a risky operation that could save her life but most likely leave her crippled. As for Nunakawa, he decides to track down his pregnant mother and convince her to abort him before she dies in childbirth and leaves him the care of her abusive father.
A HEARTFUL OF LOVE is directed by Akihiko Shiota and based on the novel of the same name by author Shinji Kajio. The two had previously collaborated on the film adaptation of Kajio’s book RESURRECTION (Yomigaeri), which was a major hit for Toho in 2002 (and one of the main reasons why the new film was shown at AFM in 2005). Director Shiota’s credits also include the award-winning movies MOONLIGHT WHISPERS (Gekko no Sasayaki, 1998) and DON’T LOOK BACK (Dokomademo, 1999), GIPS (Gipusu, 2001), the international festival hit HARMFUL INSECT (Gaichu, 2002), and CANARY (Kanaria, 2004). He recently completed a live action film based on Osamu Tezuka’s manga DORORO (2007), which TBS screened at AFM 2006.
The film includes several strong performances, headlined by Hideaki Ito. Ito is fast becoming a popular idol and leading man in Japan, with roles in PYROKINESIS (Kurosufaia, 2000), ONMYOJI (2001), THE PRINCESS BLADE (Shurayuki Hime, 2001), ONMYOJI 2 (2003), UMIZARU (2004), and LIMIT OF LOVE: UMIZARU 2. Lead actress Mimula made her theatrical debut with the horror film ONE MISSED CALL 2 (Chakushin Ari 2, 2005). Ryo Katsuji was in BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM (Battoru Rowaiaru II: Rekuiemu, 2003) and had one of the key roles in the hit AEGIS (Bokoku no Igisu, 2005), which was shown at AFM in 2005.
Kankuro Kudo is a writer/actor best known for his screenplays for the TBS TV series KISARAZU CAT’S EYE (2002), the film versions KISARAZU CAT’S EYE- THE MOVIE (2003) and KISARAZU CAT’S EYE: SAYONARA GAME (2006), and Takashi Miike’s ZEBRAMAN (Zeburaman, 2004). Kudo also had a role in the ghost story THIRTEEN STEPS (13 Kaidan, 2003). Hiro is played by 11 year-old Ryo Tomioka, star of GAMERA THE BRAVE (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera, 2006). As in the Gamera film, Tomioka portrays a boy struggling to accept losing a loved one.
Two acting veterans have important roles in A HEARTFUL OF LOVE. Kanzaburo Nakamura has appeared in such films as the classic ILLUSION OF BLOOD (Yotsuya Kaidan, 1969). Possibly the most recognizable cast member for Japanese audiences would be Chieko Baisho, who plays Hiroshi’s grandmother. Baisho is a popular actress who starred as Torajiro’s sister Sakura Suwa in more than three dozen TORA-SAN films from 1969 to 1995, She was also a voice performer in the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM (Kido Senshi Gundamu 1, 1981) as well as Hayao Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, 2004).
The film’s music was composed by Akira Seju. Seju’s credits include the soundtracks for MOBILE SUIT VICTORY GUNDAM (Kido Senshi V Gundam, 1993), RAMPO (1994), PRINCESS ARITE (Arite Hime, 2001), HINOKIO (2005), and director Akihiko Shiota’s RESURRECTION. Kou Shibasaki performs “Sweet Mom”, the theme song for A HEARTFUL OF LOVE. Following her role in BATTLE ROYALE (Batoru Rowaiaru, 2001), Shibasaki has become a popular actress, model, and singer. Her film credits include SCARECROW (Kakashi, 2001), RESURRECTION, ONE MISSED CALL (Chakushin Ari, 2004), and CRYING OUT FOR LOVE IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD (Sekai no Chushin de, Ai o Sakebu, 2004). She had lead roles in SINKING OF JAPAN (Nihon Chinbotsu, 2006) and DORORO.
While A HEARTFUL OF LOVE treads some familiar territory, the movie puts a fresh spin on the material to create something new and touching. It also successfully manages to avoid the many pitfalls that befall most time travel stories (a major problem with Toho’s 1991 film GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH), features excellent performances from the actors, and includes some stunning location shooting in Kyushu. A HEARTFUL OF LOVE may not get a US release, but anyone interested in Toho’s non-kaiju fare is advised to look for the licensed, English subtitled Region 3 DVD from Hong Kong distributor ERA Home Entertainment.