Japan hit me like a warm wet rag.
But in a good way.
The heat and humidity was more than I was expecting. Not too much different than the weather in Hawaii recently where I was under similar circumstances. Once again, my film God’s Ears had carried me across the sea on some new adventure. For all I put into the film, it has certainly been paying it back in the frequent travel miles.
Skip City is about a 30 minute train ride from Tokyo. You can practically see it from Tokyo as well since there is little in the way of mountains or hills to prevent the view. Like much of the area, you can find yourself walking through a Vegas-like array of activity and lights and then several blocks later be in a narrow alley way of small sushi restaurants and bars right out of Ozu’s Tokyo Story.
Right away, stepping off the train, I knew the Skip City D-Cinema Film Festival was something special. Or at the very least, something very well oiled. There is a reason Variety included it in the “50 unmissable film festivals”. Part of the reason I would imagine is the attention to detail as various festival volunteers waved potential guests from the train to the awaiting bus (on time like clockwork every 20 minutes) taking them to the festival. But the other reasons according to variety: “Japan offers one of the most dynamic new showcases for digital cinema with this fest. The money, nearly $200,000 in competition prize cash, comes courtesy of key sponsor Sony, but that’s only part of the fest’s cutting-edge appeal. All the movies are shown using the latest 4K digital cinema projector, which is then projected on a huge screen.”
Awaiting us at the front of the building was something exciting me as much as my own film being shown on that Holy Grail projector; the poster for Kurosawa’s restored print of Rashomon. The film that introduced Kurosawa to the western world (and the Oscars) was digitally repaired last year and being screened here in 4K on the very screen God’s Ears would be in the next couple days.
But prior to that, after passing the five foot Godzilla near the entrance, the staff took us into a waiting room where we were fed sushi and green tea. Being the only American there I was hardly the only foreigner as filmmakers from places like France, Poland and South America were also seated around the tables, trying out the locally famous food. We were then all led into the screening auditorium past a huge line of waiting press and ticket holders to hear the directors introduce the filmmakers but more importantly, I am sure, catch a look at the Kurosawa film in probably its best physical state ever.
The screen was impressive before I even saw a frame projected. The sole Skip City Cinema logo projected above was almost in 3-D clarity! We were handed small transceivers so we could have the speakers translated into English. Of course I could decipher the “Michael Worth” without the use of it, but helped all the same. One by one we were asked up onto the stage after our names were called. The press snapped away as the 15 feature film representatives and the other half dozen short filmmakers stood with the program directors. I looked around wondering if anyone else was equally grateful to have been in this small group chosen out of over 1,000 film submissions. I hoped so. Probably wasn’t going to happen that many more times in your lifetime.
Most of the visiting filmmakers were still freshly stuck in the mire of jet lag and did not return to the screening of Rashomon, but you were almost more likely to get me to miss my own film than this. After a ten minute demonstration of the work done to the film, the 1000s of instances of scratches and dirt removed for this print, the film was then finally started.
I was very impressed with the look of it. Everything from Toshiro Mifune’s teeth to the rain drops falling on the old temple leaped out at you. Facial expressions that once were not so pronounced were suddenly as clear as day. The image was as sharp as it could have ever looked, even back in 1950 when it was made. Once the film ended, I couldn’t help but wish it was doubled billed with The Seven Samurai. Well, there was always next year.
They ended the night with a giant buffet that included several hundred people and several hundred rolls of sushi. Before the food bell rang, the traditional Kagami-biraki ceremony of breaking the lid of a sake barrel was performed and then the sake was served to everyone. I had my replacement orange juice but that sushi did not pass me up.
I found a way to fit almost three plates into me. It always taste better when its free for some reason. I was lucky enough to talk to some of the local filmmakers that wanted to know about film making in America. I don’t think some of them realized that even in America you have to hunt and kill at times to get your money raised. But their passion for film making was no less than anything we experience back home, that is for sure. In fact, if this festival was any indication of it, it is even more so.
As I hopped on the bus to head back to the train, I couldn’t help but realize just in this first day that Skip City was going to be one of the best run film festivals I had been to. And I have been to a few amazing ones in the past year including Sedona International, The Big Island and Visionfest. So as I looked to the lights of Tokyo from the train window, I gave a slight bow to the spirits of Ozu, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi and counted my blessings that a film that I was lucky enough to be a part of, was going to shine up on a 4K screen for a brief moment in a land of giant filmmakers.