Tokyo Dream Screen … a report from Director Elizabeth Shepherd

Tokyo! A mind-boggling megalopolis, a place of tall towers, tranquil gardens, fashion, industry and a film and media fulcrum that includes a world class international children’s film festival called KINEKO.

I was honored to serve on this year’s international jury for the 24th edition of KINEKO International Children’s Film Festival, which unspooled November 2 to 6 in a fabulous new setting in Futakotamagawa in Setagaya city. The new setting allowed festival-goers to relax in comfort in gorgeous theaters (YES to offering cozy blankets and chocolate popcorn as amenities and refreshments!) and then have a chance to have a picnic after the movies in surrounding parks.

Thousands of eager children made their way to screenings and events of the festival, which was beautifully visioned and managed by Shinzo Kanno, President and Representative Director of Tokyo Recreation Co., Yasushi Shiina, Director General of Tokyo International Film Festival, and Mitsuo Tahira, Festival Director of KINEKO. An expert staff assisted them and oh! what a turnout of helpful, smiling volunteers!

Films from all over the world graced the festival — but how to deal with subtitles? KINEKO has come up with a brilliant solution — engaging top Japanese screen stars and voice actors to not only read but also truly interpret the action of the films. The audiences were dazzled by their talents and interpretations of the stories.

There was also a bustling animation workshop, led by Danish animator Esben Toft Jacobsen, that allowed children to create their own claymation magic. A children’s jury also joyously convened and awarded prizes in a special competition.

The International Jury included some of the best and the brightest in the constellation of the European children’s film festival circuit — from France, Céline Ravenel, director of Cine-Jeune Film Festival, Belgium’s Elise Van Burden, Volodymryr Diagilev, director of Ukraine’s up-and-coming International Children’s Television Festival “Dytiatko,” Antonio Guarino, manager of the Doho Giffoni Youth Media Summit and Planet-Y organization, Michael Harbauer, director of Germany’s Schlingel festival for children and youth, and Jaroslav Hynštová, programmer for the Zlin Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

In the end, we awarded two Japanese animated films that particularly stood out to us as examples of stellar filmmaking for a child audience.

The jury awarded its short film prize to “Fox Fears,” by Miyo Sato, for its timeless message of a mother’s unconditional love for her child, its appeal to children as a folk tale that will help them as they grow and change, and it’s evocative hand-made artistry by an emerging female animator. Here’s the trailer for “Fox Fears.”

For a feature film, the prize went to “Chieri and Cherry,” by Makoto Nakamura, a film with intense themes of growing up, love and loss explored in stunning puppet animation. The film surprised and ultimately enchanted us. See the trailer here!

Thank you, KINEKO, for a beautiful festival which left a deep impression of Japanese culture, film, art and hospitality!

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