By Liza Foreman | Thompson on Hollywood March 25, 2012 at 1:55PM
Laughter is the best medicine: the residents of Okinawa should know.
On Friday, this tropical prefecture in south Japan (boasting the highest number of centenarians worldwide) welcomed 50 of the country’s leading comedians to launch the 4th edition of the Okinawa International Movie Festival (March 24 - 31: 2012), which is dedicated to laughter and peace.
Japan’s most amusing entertainers pranced down the 300 meter long red carpet like mad hatters, entertaining hundreds of screaming groupies. Young female fans waived giant notepads in the air, hoping for an autograph from the men and women dressed in carnival-type costumes, even mimicking security guards by plastering themselves to the barricades as if to fence off unruly fans.
Popular Japanese comedians such as Goli and Kawata, from the duo Garage Cell, walked the carpet as did blond Ryo Tamura, who was greeted by loud screams. More comedians will join festivities later this week; veteran Hitoshi Matsumoto will attend his film “Scabbard Samurai,” which was released in Japan last year and recently played Deauville in France. The event is sponsored by the country’s largest agency for comedians, Yoshimoto Kogyo.
102 films from 13 countries will unspool over the coming week, building on the 310,000 admissions recorded last year.
Guests at the Fest include French Oscar-winner Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Brit director Joe Cornish and actor Nick Frost (“Attack the Block”). Other films playing this year include American comedy “Bridesmaids,” from Paul Feig, and the Japanese title “Dream in the Rising Sun,” which follows an American singer who is asked to change sexes in order to land the job of his dreams. The Japanese comedy “Ah! Minister! pokes fun at the government; it's about an attempt to pass a bill banning Japanese from wearing women’s underwear.
Films competing in the laughter category include Hong Kong’s “All’s Well Ends Well 2012” about a woman who starts a website encouraging men to donate time to embrace women in need of a hug.
In the Okinawan film “Hai-Zai,” meanwhile, a woman mistaken for a local shaman is kidnapped by the yakuza. “I like to think that the Japanese have a great sense of humor,” said one volunteer on Friday. “And peace isn’t just about the Dalai Lama. It can be tales of family reconciliation or anything.”
Launched a matter of days after the 3/11 disaster, the festival was instantly re-positioned last year as a fundraiser to support recovery efforts. More than $1 million was raised from donations from hundreds of comedians and spectators.
This year, “3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake: A Photo Exhibition by Yasushi Handa” will run during the festival and the documentary “Pray for Japan,” from director Stu Levy, follows Japan's rebuilding efforts.
On a lighter note, a number of stand-up comedy nights will be held at the main venue, the Okinawa Convention Center, steps from the moody ocean shore beloved by Japanese vacationers.
The fest is also hosting several business conventions, including the Okinawa Contents Land, which will present content from 50 companies, ranging from video games to television programming.
Okinawa Contents Bazaar, which runs in parallel, is aiming to promote cross-cultural collaboration on new film projects. Organizers are working with new talent to help them succeed in different markets and create “new cultural bridges.”
Japan has stepped up efforts in recent years to better support soft industries, such as content and fashion, through its initiative Cool Japan.
Okinawans are thought to live the longest because of their balanced lifestyle, spirituality and, especially, their diet, which is high in fresh fish, grains, fruit and vegetables.