Note: the written content in this post is a holdover from early experimentation with the format of photo galleries on The Gaijin Ghost home page. Essentially, what remains here is a post that has been re-developed from a string of photo captions, into a guided photo tour. There are enough lingering cues, directing the reader’s eyes, however, that it was felt this tour would not lend itself as well to audio narration. No option for that this time, then.
Every year in late October, the Tokyo International Film Festival kicks off at the affluent Roppongi Hills complex in Minato Ward. 2015 and 2016 were no different; the 50 images in this post are related to those years, when Hollywood notables like Robert Zemeckis and Meryl Streep made appearances. The main focus here is on the festival’s opening day, where you will see what it is like to attend a screening of the opening film, and then engage in a bit of people-watching, from the public viewing area, during the red carpet ceremony.
Roppongi Hills is a short walk from Roppongi Station, on the Oedo and Hibiya subway lines. Each year, the Metro Hat for the Hibiya Line is done up with large-scale advertising for the film festival.
Inside the complex, you will, of course, pass the landmark sculpture of Maman the spider, seen here in a black-and-white photo from our Roppongi Hills file.
Next to the Mori Art Museum Cone, you will come upon the entrance to Toho Cinemas Roppongi.
Here you can see the glass Museum Cone, with skyscrapers under construction in the distance ...
Looking down on Roppongi Hills Arena, as the red carpet is being set up ...
Toho Cinemas Roppongi is also housed within a striking glass edifice.
In 2015, the festival's opening film was The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis.
To enter the theater, you must present a QR code via your phone: your ticket, such as it were.
Inside the theater, waiting for the first screening of The Walk to begin ...
Two hours later, the lookout spot next to the stairs and escalator—where we sniped that shot of the arena before—has been closed off by security. Sound is now booming up from the arena, too.
For some reason, in 2015, the opening film was scheduled to overlap with the opening ceremony. By the time the first screening let out, the red carpet event had already started, down in the arena.
The first famous face to pop up, on our tour of recent TIFF history, is Hilary Swank, two-time winner of the Best Actress Oscar, for her performances in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby.
Outside the arena, fans gather behind the press line, just to catch a glimpse of heads moving down the red carpet.
One such head, seen bobbing along here, is that of Japanese director Hideo Nakata, best known for Ring (a.k.a. Ringu) and Dark Water, two seminal fright flicks based on Koji Suzuki stories.
In the 2000s, a glut of American remakes helped recapitulate the "dead wet girl" trope from this pair of J-horror classics. First out of the gate (and perhaps the sole fresh tomato in the batch) was The Ring, a slick, Hollywoodized remake of Ringu.
Depending on which film nerd you ask, the remake might actually rank as superior to the original, in this case. Certainly it was more of a worldwide box-office phenomenon. Who could forget that immortal tagline? "Before you die, you see ... The Ring."
For its part, Ringu was one of those titles that leapt out from the shelf at video rental stores, attracting the attention of more serious cinephiles, who were not adverse to watching a low-budget foreign film. An old Billboard article, written at the height of the DVD market, cites Ringu as having an impact there, among other cult horror favorites.
This was back before streaming services like Netflix came along. Fast forward to 2015, and now Netflix is a presence on the film festival circuit. Beasts of No Nation, the first Netflix original film, made its Asian premiere here, at the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival.
Now we transition into a couple of photos, outsourced from a fellow Tokyoite on Flickr.
In 2015, having not lined up in time to get an arena pass (and facing a scheduling conflict, anyway, with The Walk’s first screening), The Gaijin Ghost was relegated to a position behind the bushes, with all the other gawkers. Not the best vantage point for taking pictures. Hence these loaners.
Above: Cary Fukunaga, the director of Beasts of No Nation and all eight episodes of True Detective: Season 1.
Above: actor Koji Yakusho, who starred in the original Shall We Dance?, and co-starred in such films as Memoirs of a Geisha and Babel.
Yakusho played the lead in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, a Gaijin Ghost Spotlight Movie Pick.
It is a crime against cinema that Cure is not available on home media in the U.S. At TIFF 2015, this underappreciated genre gem screened as part of an all-night event at the Shinjuku Piccadilly, dubbed "Masters of J-Horror." The night also included Ju-On: The Grudge, and another Hideo Nakata film, Don't Look Up.
Comic book movie geeks will surely recognize the next famous face, on our tour of recent TIFF history. In 2015, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men: Days of Future Past) served as President of the International Competition Jury, which awards the festival's top prize, the Tokyo Grand Prix. On the red carpet, Singer stopped to take selfies with fans ...
The bookend to Hillary Swank, at TIFF 2015, was an appearance by Helen Mirren, another Oscar winner for Best Actress, who also gave a memorable supporting turn as the head housekeeper in Gosford Park.
A legitimate Dame (of the Order of the British Empire), Mirren took the stage toward the end of the red carpet ceremony, looking regal in her gown, as befitting a woman who played The Queen.
Below: Mirren on stage with director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn). They were promoting the film Woman in Gold.
As trivia buffs might remember, October 21, 2015 was the date Marty McFly time-travelled to in Back to the Future Part II. Much of the world celebrated this as a one-time holiday, comparing the film's '80s vision of the future to the real world of 2015.
While fans reminisced about hoverboards, Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was in Tokyo, doing press for The Walk. The next day, Zemeckis, who also won the Best Director Oscar for Forrest Gump, closed out the red carpet ceremony at TIFF.
With all the bright lights, shooting pictures on the red carpet poses a challenge, even when there are no physical obstructions.
A tech novice, sporting a simple bridge camera, is likely to come away with photos that fall short of professional quality.
Alas, this gallery, and this website as a whole, can only aspire to a makeshift, Wikipedia level of photography.
Above: the staircase where guests made their entrance onto the red carpet at TIFF 2015.
Below: a worker breaks down the section of red carpet leading up to the stage.
Below: a flowing fountain wall in Roku-Roku (a.k.a. ”66”) Plaza, on the way back out of Roppongi Hills.
Throughout the 2015 festival, five Japanese master chefs served up "Tokyo Cinema Cuisine" from food trucks inside the arena. For filmgoers, this provided a rare opportunity to get an affordable taste of a Michelin 3-star restaurant like Sushi Yoshitake.
Mackerel pressed sushi with whole-grain rice ...
Mori Tower, centerpiece of the Roppongi Hills complex, circa October 2016 ...
Waiting in line on the hillside steps above the arena, on the opening day of TIFF 2016 ...
In the morning, free tickets are issued for the public viewing area inside the arena. The tickets are limited to a few hundred, but this year, The Gaijin Ghost did obtain one.
Now you will be able to see what it is like to watch the ceremony from inside the arena.
Below is the stage where the red carpet ends. Against the backdrop here, guests will stop and pose.
Video cameras are mounted in a central position, in front of the stage. Clips for the evening news and other media outlets likely originate here.
The first long stretch of red carpet runs alongside the TV Asahi building. Fans seeking autographs and up-close pics flock to this side of the arena.
Below, left: Haru Kuroki, the kimono-wearing face of TIFF 2016. Each year one actress is designated the official "festival muse."
Below, right: TIFF Director General Yasushi Shiina, who, in 2014, rolled out a new Asia-centric plan for the festival, to mixed results.
Shiina has drawn flak in THR for shifting the festival's focus, away from Hollywood films, to more insular Japanese fare. One upside, however, to TIFF's current Asia-first bent, is the rare opportunity to see homegrown Japanese films with English subtitles.
A subtitled version of The Boy and the Beast, known in Japan as Bakemono no Ko, would otherwise prove elusive to U.S. iTunes Store customers. Unfortunately, in most cases, it seems that if and when anime films do get released stateside on iTunes, it is in dubbed form (better than nothing, but still disappointing for the casual anime fan, who bristles at the time-honored, yet questionable conceit of exaggerated English voices being substituted for the original Japanese.)
The Boy and the Beast screened at TIFF in 2015, and then again in 2016, as part of the rainbow-bright "World of Mamoru Hosada" retrospective. Outside his colorful anime world, Hosada himself appeared at Q&A screenings with an English interpreter.
Below: men in monochrome reality. From left to right: anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa, director Mamoru Hosada, and Studio Chizu producer Yuichiro Saito at TIFF 2016.
Hosada has been likened to the next Hayao Miyazaki. (Whereas Miyazaki, the semi-retired co-founder of Studio Ghibli, is a figure oft-venerated as the Walt Disney of Japan.)
Another contender for the vaunted title of “the new Miyazaki” is Makoto Shinkai, whose smash hit Your Name, or Kimi no Na wa, also screened with English subtitles at TIFF 2016. It remains to be seen whether either of these up-and-comers, Shinkai or Hosada, will have enough longevity to permanently fill the Miyazaki-shaped hole in anime.
Under the halcyon days of former chairman Tom Yoda, TIFF featured more mainstream films, plus an eco-friendly green carpet.
In 2010, for example, the festival opened and closed with a pair of Hollywood heavy-hitters: namely, The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, and The Town, directed by Ben Affleck. Three years later, director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks were both on hand at the festival, as their film Captain Phillips kicked off the 26th edition of TIFF.
Alas, these days at TIFF, tumbleweeds blow by, in place of Hollywood prestige. On the red carpet, excitement lulls longer. Crickets chirp at times.
"On a rainy Tuesday evening, the searching eyes of fans, hoping for a celebrity sighting, could only look about helplessly. The 3-hour parade of unknown faces left many wondering when a star they recognized was going to grace the red carpet."
"Only at the end did Meryl Streep swoop in to rescue the festival from utter obscurity."
Streep was soon joined by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose eyes seemed drawn to foreign paparazzi lenses.
As the nation's leader assumed the microphone position, he was flanked by Streep and Japanese actor Kenichi Matsuyama.
Matsuyama, of Death Note and Gantz fame, also starred in an adaptation of the Haruki Murakami bestseller Norwegian Wood. Tonight he was on hand with director Yoshitaka Mori and co-star Masahiro Higashide to promote Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow.
With his method-like acting approach, Matsuyama gained weight for the title role of Satoshi, a cancer-stricken shogi master.
While Satoshi has no U.S. release date in sight, the film’s trailer makes for an interesting case study in Japanese movie previews.
Explanatory voiceover, guitar-driven J-pop, people crying and just generally emoting ... a lot of other trailers tick the same boxes.
Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow actually served as the festival closer. The opening film of TIFF 2016 was Florence Foster Jenkins.
Streep's co-star, Hugh Grant, had been slated to appear with her, but he had to back out due to scheduling conflicts.
This left only Abe, to fill the void of A-listers with Streep, on what is fast-becoming the film festival fringe, here in Tokyo.
Coincidentally, Streep won her third Oscar for playing a Prime Minister. It was British PM Margaret Thatcher, in The Iron Lady. It was only natural, then, that the Japanese PM, Abe-san, would cite Streep's performance in that film as an inspiration.
This brings us full circle, back to the cover photo, for the gallery on our home page, where these and other Roppongi Hills photos are nested. With it, we have reached the end of this tour.
See you at TIFF 2017, for the 30th anniversary of the festival!