It was another jam-packed opening night at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival with specials guests in attendance and festival goers ready to hand in their tickets.
Masato Harada, seen here, is an actor, film critic, and director whose films include the award-winning Chronicle of My Mother (2011) and Return (2013). Harada also acted in the film The Last Samurai (2003) playing the film’s main antagonist Omura.
The premiere night of this year’s festival featured the international debut of Kakekomi onna to kakedashi otoko, a comedic film that focuses on an Edo-period Buddhist temple that was a sanctuary for women seeking divorces.
Director Masato Harada – who was in attendance – gave a pre-screening talk about what audiences should expect from his film’s unique take on the Japanese historic film genre.
“This is totally different from normal Japanese period dramas or Japanese contemporary movies,” Harada told attendees.
“It’s quickly paced and it has a lot of dialogue in Japanese sort of mixed with the 19th century vocabulary … so if you understand Japanese basically read the subtitles… it’s better,” he said with a laugh referring to some of the old school colloquialisms used in the film’s dialogue.
Harada hopes the film’s screenplay will also appeal to younger audiences likening its story structure to Russian Matryoshka dolls. Also known as Russian nesting dolls, the wooden figures stack into one another with each layer revealing a new design.
He believes that the many subplots and storylines stacked on top of each other in his film will keep younger, Internet-oriented eyes more attentive as he says they normally gloss over while watching films that depict Japan’s history.
“This structure of this film is similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction as there are so many subplots and characters, but the main storyline is simple, so if you ever feel confused while watching… just think about Pulp Fiction,” Harada said.
He also referenced the influence of director Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard on Kakekomi and other Jidaigeki – or period films – that helped establish the film genre.
Also in attendance at the night was Consul-General of Japan in Toronto Yasunori Nakayama who introduced audiences to some of the history behind the film’s depiction of Edo-period Japan.
“One might think that women in Edo had their lives entirely dictated by men,” Nakayama said. “Or course, women at the time did not have the same freedoms that they do today, but their lives were not as restricted as we might think.”
Edo, which would one day become Tokyo, was one of the world’s largest cities with a population of over one million. It was a hub of samurai, craftsmen, and merchants, but it also had severe imbalance of men and women.
With so few women, the men of the city gave their female counterparts much more respect. And when faced with unreasonable husbands or untenable marriages women could seek divorce.
Buddhist temples like Tokai-ji, which is featured in the film, provided a sanctuary to these women giving them support as they sought out better lives.
“This film depicts individuals who maintain their courage and strength without yielding to difficulties arising from social and domestic problems,” Nakayama said. “I join all of you in looking forward to the screening of the film with great expectation of the drama Mr. Harada has created.”
This is the fourth annual Toronto Japanese Film Festival. It runs from June 11 to June 26.
On the closing night on June 26, attendees will be joined by director Masayuki Suo and actress Tamiyo Kusakari who will introduce Lady Maiko, which makes its Canadian premiere at the festival.
There are also a number of films playing from the 2014 and 2015 roll out of Japanese films including A Samurai Chronicle, Tokyo Tribe, and Maestro!