LA EigaFest Report
Author: Andrew Nguyen
Official Site: LA EigaFest
Ever since December 2011, the Japanese Film Society has held its annual LA Eigafest at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA. During the festival, the US public gained access to the latest in Japanese films, which range from serious drama to comedy, to the latest in Japanese animation. Furthermore, panels that take place during the festival offer insight into the business relations between the Japanese and American film industries. In additional, the annual Matsuri festival takes place in conjunction with LA Eigafest on Saturday at the front of the Egyptian Theater. Unlike the last three LA Eigafests, which took place in December, this one took place in September (from the 12th to the 14th) so to take advantage of the better weather conditions during the opening ceremonies and such. Hayato Mitsuishi is the President and Co-Founder of the Japanese Film Society and the festival director of LA Eigafest ever since its inception three years ago.
For the openings ceremonies, LA Eigafest would screen the live action movie LUPIN THE THIRD (Rupan Sansei), which would be the movie’s international premiere. The movie draws its source material on the legendary manga and anime that deals with the exploits of Lupin the Third, the grandson of the legendary thief Arsine Lupin. Other thieves who are business associates with Lupin include the gunslinger Daisuke Jigen, the legendary swordsman Goemon Ishikawa XIII , and the sultry devious Fujiko Mine. Opposing Lupin and his gang is Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol. Ever since it began publication in manga form on August 10, 1967 in by the author Monkey Punch, LUPIN III (Rupan Sansei) has transformed into an enormous media franchise. In fact early in his career, Hayao Miyazaki directed an animated Lupin III feature film, THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro), which played in Japanese theaters in 1979. Recently LUPIN III had television crossover specials with another famous manga and anime franchise, DETECTIVE CONAN (Meitantei Conan). Almost by any standard, it has become a cultural institution of the Japanese entertainment industry.
There had been two previous live action versions of Lupin the Third. The first one, titled LUPIN THE 3RD: STRANGE PSYCHOKINETIC STRATEGY (Lupin III Strange Psychokinetic Strategy) appeared in Japanese theaters in 1974 while the animated series was transitioning between its first and second seasons and mainly relied on slapstick humor and physics defying stunts. The second attempt came in the form of a live action TV show that the GMA Network produced in the Philippines in 2007.
For this third live action movie, Toho tapped Ryuhei Kitamura, a Japanese director who resides in Los Angeles, to helm the movie. Amongst Kitamura’s body of Japanese and American films was Toho’s 50th anniversary film GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (Gojira: Fainaru Wōzu), which is the last one, at present, produced by a Japanese studio. Other films include VERSUS (Vāsasu) ALIVE, AZUMI, SKYHIGH, and the American film THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. LUPIN THE THIRD has already has its premiere in Japanese theaters on August 30, 2014.
For the closing ceremonies, LA Eigafest would choose the movie RURONI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO (Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Taika-hen), which was the sequel to 2012’s RURONI KENSHIN (Rurōni Kenshin). Taking place a short time after the first movie, the Meiji government summons Himura Kenshin back into service to deal with a rebellion created by Makoto Shishio. Shishio is a successor to the dark legacy of the Hitokiri Battōsai that Kenshin attempted to leave behind and the government considered Shishio so dangerous that they once attempted to burn him alive. Reuniting the main cast and production crew from the previous film, RURONI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO appeared in Japanese theaters in August 2014 and with another sequel, RURONI KENSHIN: THE LEGEND ENDS (Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen), following in September.
Amongst the film lineup this time around was the original GODZILLA (Gojira) as well as the remake produced by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. The film festival would show the two movies as a small celebration of its own of the 60th anniversary of the Godzilla series. The two movies would screen at the Egyptian theater as a double feature on Saturday at 9:00pm.
Before the opening ceremonies, LA Eigafest held a press conference at the Loews Hollywood hotel, which mainly focused on the main guests for the festival. In attendance was Mitsuishi and director Kitamura along with producer Mata Yamamoto who has worked with Kitamura on his film AZUMI, and Japanese actress Meisa Kuroki who plays Fujiko Mine in LUPIN THE THIRD and Sachiko Yoshimura who is the CEO of JETRO Los Angeles.
The press conference began with Mitsuishi and Yoshimura introducing and describing their respective organizations. They then discussed how their organizations interacted with both the American and Japanese film companies. The press conference then dealt with the production of the live action Lupin the Third film before wrapping up with a discussion about bringing films to different countries and the difficulties involved with that along with foreign film companies encountering difficulties while filming in Japan. When that issue came up, it brought back memories of reading about the difficulties that the Ridley Scott movie BLACK RAIN had in filming in Japan.
Afterwards attention switched to the red carpet and opening ceremonies, which took place at about 6:00pm in front of the Egyptian Theater. While most of the people were in line for the red carpet ceremonies and the opening ceremonies, only some, to their surprise, would be able to attend the red carpet viewing of the actors and other guests as they only had tickets for that particular event. Not surprisingly, there were familiar faces due to the number of related events that take place in Southern California during the year.
Inside the Egyptian Theater, confusion reigned as people attempted to find their assigned seats. For the press, they had the first three rows of seats at the front, particularly in the middle section of the theater while the other seats were for the VIPs. Eventually, the main staff for the festival announced to the general audience to get whatever seats that were available with the festival staff directing people to seats at the upper balcony as they were operating behind schedule. There was still a sense of general organization with the press and the VIPs taking the seats at front of the theater room.
The opening ceremonies commenced with a performance with taiko drums and a dancer who had been a contestant on the show one of the reality dancing shows in the United States. Afterwards, the Japanese consulate general took to the front of the room with the CEO of JETRO Los Angeles and then Mitsuishi following on behind them. Both the Japanese consulate general and the JETRO representative voiced their pride in participating in tonight’s events and their positive impressions of the festival as a whole. Mitsuishi mentioned first his apologies on the seating situation before he turned to remarking on the progress that the festival in the years since it first started back in 2011. After the introductions were finished, the screening of the movie began.
While at times the action sequences of the movie take on a tone that is almost too close to the Matrix, it is mostly an okay adaptation of the Lupin the Third franchise from animation and manga to the live-action format. Sometimes even if the action does veer a bit too close to the Matrix, the level of action is necessary for some characters that rely more on swords than guns. From the observations of the movie, they did select a good cast with the standouts being that of Lupin and Fujiko with Lupin’s nemesis Zenigata and Jigen following closely behind although Zenigata does need a bit more screaming. In addition, the cast also had to deal with speaking in English for a good portion of the movie. Overall, while there were inevitably some missteps, they managed to do an acceptable job with the English dialogue.
Afterwards, Kitamura, Kuroki, and Yamamoto held a Q&A session with the audience. It centered around the production of the movie along with focus on Kitamura’s past and future work. The producer has been long friends with Monkey Punch, which played a vital role in getting the movie made. Both the director and the producer made light of the fact that they knew of the scale and difficulties of what they were dealing with when they took on the project, which took two years to pull off. While they tried to honor the series, they didn’t try to copy most of the elements that one would find in the previous shows and movies about Lupin III. It finally wrapped up with discussion of Kitamura’s future film projects as well as any potential plans for any new live action films about Lupin III.
After the end of the Q&A, the audience moved outside for the after dinner party. This time around, there was a lot more foods of different types for the audience along with sake, water, and other beverages. Nearly everyone was busy with conversation on related business matters before individuals gradually decided to take their leave due to the late night and long travel some had undertaken to attend the event.
The next day, LA Eigafest held its business at the Loews Hollywood hotel. In attendance was Doug Liman who was the director for EDGE OF TOMORROW and Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the Japanese author of the manga ALL YOU NEED IS KILL (Ōru Yū Nīdo Izu Kiru), which inspired the movie. Masahisa Mitsunaga, the coordinator of JETRO Los Angeles was also present as well. Moderated by Mitsuishi, the panel discussed the issues of bringing Japanese entertainment properties to America as well as some of the production details that the production of Edge of Tomorrow encountered as they attempted to translate the story to modern audiences. Other issues the panel discussed included the differences between the film and manga as well as difficulties of partnerships between different companies when working on film and finally the tug of war between the creative and business side of making films. A few in the audience, particularly actor Masi Oka, of the TV show HEROES fame, chimed in with their own thoughts and experience on the discussion between the creative and business sides of film and how to ensure that they could work together with the prime focus being on the business side. Afterwards some amongst the audience talked amongst themselves of the difficulties of bringing Japanese films and other forms of entertainment to the US as they had to catch up to other Asian countries which had success in doing so during the past two or three decades such as China and South Korea.
Afterwards the director headed to the Japanese consulate for a special ceremony along with the CEO of Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull, and the main star of EDGE OF TOMORROW, Tom Cruise for their work in bringing Japanese influenced entertainment to the wider world. Called the Japan Cool Content Contribution Award (J3C Award), this was the second year this award ceremony took place and it would be a private affair that only even a few in the press could gain access to the event.