Beyond Anime: Japanese Films Dazzle at EigaFest

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Think of Japanese movies, and two things readily come to mind: samurai and anime. But organizers of the L.A. EigaFest — a showcase of contemporary cinema from the Land of the Rising Sun — aim to show Angelenos that the nation’s filmmakers are up to much more than that.

The festival, now in its second year, runs Friday through Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and features films on such topics as an unraveling supermodel, a time-traveling Roman architect and a single mother raising two werewolf children.

Hayato Mitsuishi, president of the Japan Film Society, which is organizing the festival, said programmers aren’t just targeting niche groups such as Japanese Americans, anime fanatics or hard-core cinephiles. The goal, Mitsuishi said, is to “get the American audience to know Japanese culture through Japanese films and entertainment.”
EigaFest — eiga means “film” in Japanese — opened Friday, Dec 14th, with the North American premiere of the samurai movie “Rurouni Kenshin,” a live-action adaptation of a hugely popular manga and anime series. Directed by Keishi Otomo and starring Takeru Sato, the film is about a wandering swordsman who is trying to atone for his blood-stained past as a government assassin and has sworn never to kill again.

[See Full EigaFest Line-Up]

Thanks to the manga and anime, “Kenshin” comes with a built-in fan base, and Mitsuishi said anticipation is high among stateside fans. He also hopes the film will have crossover appeal. “It’s a great transition to bring in American anime fans to come watch a live-action Japanese film, and from there get more mainstream film lovers,” he said.

Two more live-action manga adaptations screen Saturday evening in a double feature: “Helter Skelter” and “Thermae Romae.”

Directed by Mika Ninagawa (a photographer well-known for her vivid color palette and lavish portraits), “Helter Skelter” is a macabre, erotically charged satire about a top Japanese model (Erika Sawajiri) whose extensive plastic surgery begins to deteriorate, sending her into a grotesque downward spiral. The film’s skewering of celebrity and fashion culture may well resonate with American viewers.
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