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Tokyo Film Festival Kicks Off with Isabelle Huppert

Japan’s borders remain mostly closed to foreigners, but the capital recorded just 24 new coronavirus infections on Friday, allowing festival organizers to host a full-scale in-person event.

The 34th Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off in the Japanese capital Sunday night on a distinctly optimistic note, as jury president Isabelle Huppert walked the red carpet alongside a slew of local stars. It was Japan’s first glitzy red carpet occasion for an international movie premiere since the start of the pandemic — and it arrived at a time of widespread relief among the Japanese public as the country’s Covid-19 infections rate fell to new lows.

“This year again we are opening the festival during the pandemic and there were concerns again whether we could actually hold this event at all,” said Tokyo festival chairman Hiroyasu Ando from the stage at the opening ceremony. “But the infection numbers have fallen and we can welcome this large number of guests here today. I am just full of emotion.”

Added Huppert during her own appearance: “To create a great festival is always a challenge, but to make it happen in these difficult times is really a victory. We are all here together to watch movies together, and that is what we have been missing. We need cinema and cinema needs us.”

The festival officially opened with the Japan premiere of Clint Eastwood’s neo-Western Cry Macho. Eastwood sent Tokyo a letter of appreciation, which was read by the opening ceremony’s MC.

“I’m very honored to know that my latest film Cry Macho has been selected as the opening film for the 34th Tokyo International Film Festival,” Eastwood wrote. “I wish I could have been there in person to attend the festival. Through this film, I would like to deliver my interpretation of ‘true strength’. Cry Macho was shot during the pandemic, and I hope it can be one of the films to bring courage and strength to the film industry.”

Japan lifted its last pandemic state of emergency at the start of October, and infection rates across the country have plummeted in recent weeks. The national vaccination rate, meanwhile, has soared past 70 percent. On Friday, Tokyo recorded just 24 new coronavirus infections, the 13th straight day that confirmed infections clocked in below 50. Restaurants and cinemas in the capital are now allowed to operate at full capacity, while mask-wearing remains ubiquitous among Japan’s famously conscientious populace.

The Japanese government has maintained strict barriers on foreign tourist entires, however, ensuring that the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival will remain mostly a domestic affair. Festival organizers told The Hollywood Reporter that they had received entry exemptions for just under 10 international guests a little over a week before the event’s opening. Aside from jury president Huppert, industry guests on the ground in Japan include Frédéric Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival; Berlin’s artistic director Carlo Chatrian; and Christian Jeune, director of the film department for the Cannes Film Festival. The three festival bigwigs walked the Tokyo carpet Saturday night and will participate in a panel discussion about the future of festivals and theatrical cinema on Sunday.

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Tokyo is slated to exhibit just over 100 films this year, including gala screenings of Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Jane Campion’s Venice best director winner The Power of the Dog, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tilda Swinton-starrer Memoria and the late Benny Chan’s Chinese blockbuster Raging Fire, among others.

The festival’s main competition section, to be judged by Huppert’s jury, includes 15 competition titles. Among them: two anticipated world premieres from the Philippines, Brillante Mendoza’s latest, Payback, and 29-year-old talent Mikhail Red’s revenge film Arisaka; Third Time Lucky from Japan’s Tadashi Nohara, who co-wrote Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s latest feature Wife of a Spy, which won the best director award in Venice in 2020; and three features from female directors, including Korean director Shin Su-won’s latest feature Hommage, starring Lee Jeong-eun of Parasite fame, and Romanian director Teodora Ana Mihai’s Cannes Un Certain Regard contender La Civil, which was produced by the Dardenne brothers.

A highlight of the Tokyo festival this year will again be the Asia Lounge program, created and hosted by Japanese Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda. Taking place on eight consecutive days (Oct. 31-Nov. 7), and streaming over the festival’s YouTube channel, the program will feature Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) in conversation with Japanese anime veteran Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai), Huppert paired with Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi (winner of Cannes’ 2021 best screenplay award for his latest feature Drive My Car), Thai Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong and Japanese star Hidetoshi Nishijima, along with five other inspired pairings.