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The Tokyo International Film Festival

A Sociology Professor with whom I have become friendly offered me an expensive ticket to the Asian premiere of that Al Gore-narrated climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, a few weeks ago. The ground was in the midst of being pounded with the typhoon season’s last hurrah, but that was too little deterrent. I quickly snapped the ticket with a gracious “arigato gozaimasu,” agreed to meet him and two of his friends later that night, and readied excited thoughts of the chance to attend the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Established more than twenty years ago and annually offering the coveted the Grand Prix, given to the best film, the Tokyo Film Festival is clearly the continent’s premiere festival and one of the most respected in the world. Japan’s celebrated, though recently beleaguered, film industry has produced some of the world’s most respected cinematic productions, and they all take hold during a Tokyo October at the city’s film festival. Along with Asian masterpieces, films, documentaries and popular movies from throughout the world find their way to Tokyo in late October.

The professor kindly bought me a coffee at a Tully’s Coffee before we met two of his friends, an independent documentary filmmaker and the Director of the Fulbright program in Japan. I know, fancy.

We had a filling meal of appetizers and Japanese tea before we hastened back into the rain and rushed to the Roppongi Hills movie theater. Despite the weather, the enormous theater was almost filled to capacity, and I was eager to watch the film, as it had caused a bit of a stir before I had left the United States for Japan last summer.

Al Gore gave a video apology for not being able to attend the premiere, the same monotonously, depressive speaker I remembered him to be, only now with some extra weight and a more stylish wardrobe. The hour and a half I spent watching the film was worth my time, a fine collection of evidence of the human impact on climate change, if without adding anything dramatic to the debate. I was fairly disappointed in Gore’s inclusion of some needless potshots at President Bush, despite his stern-eyed declaration that, “This is not a political issue.”

It had a fine gleam, as films in this new age of entertaining documentaries often do. With the loss of pure grit and artistry through practicality of documentaries of the past (before the dazzling technological advances of the past decade or two) replaced with a focus on fast-moving and gimmicky foundations in the pursuit of big box office numbers, An Inconvenient Truth fell into, I thought, the same problems of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” another money-making, shot-calling documentary-esque movie, problems like stating facts as if the film itself was a firsthand source.

I don’t mean to suggest Al Gore was cooking the books, I just mean that I like to hear from where all the information comes. I had a few other smallish gripes, but, to be honest, thought it was a nice way to motivate the unmotivated, if only for a short while. Still, as is my nature, I immediately threw my criticism of the film at the Sociology professor and his friends, perhaps even more forceful in some attempt to justify my place in the dialogue with three older, better versed academics. I was met with stoned disapproval from the filmmaker for my comments, and he was seemingly taken aback by much of my criticism. I felt sheepish, but refused to redact, choosing rather to reform. In retrospect, I was probably petty in my criticism though, as I said, it was probably more in a sad attempt to win over my older companions. Still, I got the feeling that I didn’t make friends, not because of what I said, but that I said it. I didn’t come out of the movie and play liberal patty-cake. I tend to think films and lectures and rallies of this nature are considered third rails for some, untouchable from criticism, as, no matter their means, their message is inarguably purposeful. I failed the test and pissed on the atmosphere of change-can-happen, the-world-is-ours empowerment.

For this I apologize. Hey, I turn off the lights and recycle. Seriously! A lot more than most. Oh, the pangs of the critical and the disenchanted. Why is it that everyone, no matter one’s place on the political spectrum, seems so dismissive of varied thought? Perhaps I am, too. Oh, I suppose that at the very least it was a free movie!

Jaa ne,

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