Summer Jaunts – Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2018

Attended from June 21-23, 2018

I know I’m LOOONNG overdue in writing this! Yes, I’ll get better….NEXT year!

Not many things brings an old woman getting closer to retirement joy than to attend a film festival that is highlighting one of her favorite Japanese actors! Nothing brings more joy than being so close but unlike some of her friends on Facebook and Twitter, too chicken to take that quick selfie with said actor; however, I still feel my drama and movie life is complete having been in the same room and breathing the same air with Takumi Saito!! Yes, yes! Without even flying across the waters, this encounter was a dream come true! Saito is definitely on the short list of Japanese male and even female actors combined that I would aspire to meet one day. It was a joy and an extreme pleasure to have done so. But it was a great trip from the beginning to end!! Here’s why….

First of all, I opted to take the earliest flight I could from Reagan International Airport. Unfortunately, that meant leaving my house at the gawd awful time of 3:30am; but, imagine my surprise that this is a peak period to fly! The good news is that no one was going to Canada so my entrance to the gate was lickety split!

I wasn’t giving up my comfortable seat for no one! The gate attendant for Air Canada tried so hard to get me to fill that last damn seat in the back and I politely but definitively told her “HELL NO!”!! I had no intention of giving up my nice, comfortable front row seat for a direct flight in hell! I purposely took the long way to get a better seat. Learned my lesson from last year and that aircraft style and me aren’t on friendly terms! But I had a lot of fun flying this route. The first leg was a quiet one as my young companion was busy doing whatever she was doing and allowed me some time to watch some drama, I think my choice was Lee Da Hae’s Nice Witch; however, from Ottawa to Toronto, my young companion talked me to DEATH! She was flying from Boston to Toronto to meet some friends. She was originally from Nigeria (yes, she told me her whole life story) but I really enjoyed her conversation as she talked about her life living in Boston after being born in Nigeria; also her hopes to one day move to the US capital area of Washington DC! I’m serious, she really did talk a lot!

Once I arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport, I had to find my way to the car rental place. Needless to say, that was an added experience as I found out after I got there that the car pickup wasn’t actually on the airport but outside. I had to maneuver my way to the tram transport and then call the car rental place once I got off to be picked up. Thankfully not a bad experience and I didn’t have to wait super long; however, that damn guy drove like a bat out of hell! I was saying some quick and fast prayers that we made it to our final destination in one piece. Whew! What a ride!

After picking up my car rental, a very nice and small 2-door Kia which I’ve never driven one but it wasn’t a bad ride, I pulled out my cell phone and commenced to give my GPS app of choice, Waze, a try. It was glorious! It worked like a charm and I didn’t end up in any lakes or rivers; however, the biggest surprise was how bad the traffic was! This is just a picture I found on the web but it is a fair representation of the traffic at 12:30-1:00pm in the afternoon! Well damn! I felt right at home because in the Washington DC metro area, traffic like this is the usual; anything else is abnormal. So, what I had originally calculated would take me 30 minutes to complete, I was able to get in the vicinity of the hotel after just over 1 hour! Yes, just like home! And I was very, very hungry! Seeing that I hadn’t eaten since yesterday and hotel check in wasn’t until 3pm, I figured I must find a bite to eat!

So I settled on Swiss Chalet Rotisserie and Grill restaurant because 1. They were close 2. I was too tired for other options. The meal wasn’t bad and was of such abundance, I figured it would be enough for a late snack after I returned from the first movie tonight.

I booked my stay with Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites simply because it was close to the Japanese Cultural Center and the pictures of the facility looked nice. Now, this doesn’t always work out the way you want. Sure, I read the reviews and did the research; however, to book at the rate that I got, I had to do it months in advance. This room was booked in late February for a trip in June. The cost was half the usual rate and it was the last booking for this price. I had to jump on it!

Thankfully, the room was pretty much as pictured. 2 bottled waters for free but additional at a cost (make sure you read that sign!). Options for room service were order ahead and pick up yourself or request room delivery at a specific time. Not bad. And the menu was the full menu, not an abbreviated one; but be warned, it was a little pricey!

Well, after a quick nap (remember, I’ve been up since 2am), I headed to the Japanese Cultural Center which was approximately 2 kilometers away. If I was the walking up hill and then down hill kind of person, I could have hoofed it; however, as the movie didn’t start until 8pm, I wasn’t going to be caught out in unfamiliar territory by myself. Oh, did I tell you this trip was by my lonesome? Well, it seems that this weekend I was there was also KCon NY 2018 time! So everyone I knew was gone (T__T).

Color me True (Tonight, At Romance Theater)
Release Date: Feb 10, 2018

The first movie that I saw was Color Me True (or Tonight, At Romance Theater) which starred Sakaguchi Kentaro as Kenji and Ayase Haruka as Miyuki. Additional cast information can be found here

This movie was a stunning cinematographer’s treat and a real departure from most Japanese movies that I’ve ever seen. As the movie takes places mainly during the 1960s, it is definitely a period movie with costuming that is out of this world, stunning sets as it is a movie within a movie, and it really reminds you of a period of American movie filming that has pretty much disappeared.

I really loved this movie! I’m a BIG fan of Ayase Haruka (yes, she is on my list of actors I would LOVE to meet) and was really looking forward to seeing this. I was kind of hesitant of her starring with Sakaguchi Kentaro because for me, he is such a different caliber and I was worried he would be overshadowed by her presence. But surprisingly, he did a great job of bringing us Kenji in love with a film character.

The two together made you believe in their love story and cry with the ending. Okay, I did! Even surrounded by people I don’t know. The audience received it well and it got a rounding applause at the end. If you have not seen this movie, I really hope you do. Don’t watch it on your computer or phone; the stunning colors and costumes deserve television viewing! The purples, reds, green, yellows, and all other colors of the spectrum deserve it! This gets a 9.5/10 from me!!!!

Toronto Botanical Gardens

The next day was going to be a long one once again. I started with a big breakfast which turned into the only meal I had for the day and headed out to visit a few places. When I failed to find the outdoor market I was looking for, I headed back to the Toronto Botanical Garden. The construction to the garden almost had me turning around because it was so difficult to get through; however, once I got to the garden, the trip turned into a wonderful respite for all and everything. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of my photos from the garden when I changed cell phones. I still haven’t figured out where they are.

The garden was really nice and had wonderful areas to walk through; the children’s garden with all the plants that they could touch and read about, a rock stream if you wanted to walk along but I wasn’t taking any chances of breaking my neck by myself, and several pathways that were asphalt or winding through the woods if you were adventuresome enough to walk on; I chose not to but still enjoyed the time as the weather was sunny and perfect. Not too hot but very, very sunny! I spent almost 3 hours roaming through there. I’m old and slow!

Aga Khan Museum

The next few hours were spent at the Aga Khan Museum. It was across from the Japanese Cultural Center which is why I decided to go there. Convenient to where I was staying, the walk through the museum was an added treat that I had not originally planned to do. I didn’t want to go far and it won the toss of where to go next.

Again, none of these are my photos because I haven’t figured out where they all are yet; however, the interior of this museum is simply stunning! The many rooms and displays of literature, old relics, and several rooms that were running some very informative videos of various cities were really interesting.

The reading room, just past a beautiful ceramics collection that I sat and read from some of the books was probably one of my favorite times. One author whose book intrigued me and I’m now bereft because I’ve lost the photo I took of the book, really grabbed one because of the contents written by a Moslem cleric and reflective of the times we are living in now. One of the topics that he was discussing was about Civilization. To paraphrase, he said that “Civilization consists of four elements: economic means, political, moral and pursuits of science and arts. To continue development, there are certain psychological factors that must be maintained (faith, language, education and training). At the same time, the disintegration can occur based on disruption of law and order, spread of oppression and poverty, spread of pessimism and indifference.” This has stuck with me since I read it. If anyone is familiar with this, let me know. I really would love to continue reading this book!

blank 13
Release Date: Feb 3, 2018

Besides personal events in my life, this trip had to be one of the highlights and a memory that I will cherish and remember forever and a day. I wish I had been able to go to the New York Japan Cuts instead which would have afforded me the opportunity to see many more movies as well as meet some great people that I’ve only known online but feel like we are friends after many years of conversation; however, I heard about Toronto’s film festival first and I went into action to make sure that I get this rare chance and privilege to see one of the most handsome men in Japanese television with the most glorious of hair that he rarely cuts: Takumi Saito!

Needless to say, I didn’t lose not one picture or video from this day at the center! I have every single one on my iPad, computer at work and all the videos uploaded to YouTube! But let’s talk about the night. The movie was supposed to start at 8:00pm. I arrived there at 7:00pm, thinking I should be okay. NO! By the time I got there, the line was already winded down to the other end of the building and more people were still coming in! I had great conversations with the people around me; all shocked but not surprised that I had came from so far.

Like they agreed, the opportunity doesn’t come too often to meet stars of foreign films there in Toronto and definitely not here in the Washington DC area. Later on as the crowds continue to grow and wind back around to the front, one of the volunteers came over to where I was standing and said “Don’t move! He’s coming out of that door right there!” WHAT?!!! I wasn’t prepared to even get this close! I figured the first time we would get to see him would be on the stage; however, nope. This is what happened:

I was originally standing right next to the people that handed him the bag. It was a custom T-shirt that the woman I was talking to had made. She didn’t really expect him to take it. She said she had done the same thing for Ayano Go when he came the year before and she has no idea if he ever go the shirt! She gave it to a volunteer. So, we though he was going to keep walking but no, he comes back!

Sorry, no personal pictures with my drama love for me! I was stunned into silence! Everyone was as he stopped to talk, bow, take pictures and smile, smile, smile! He is just like you see in films; scraggly and smiling; loves to wear that black. And his clothing is the “I don’t give a F*** what my clothes like” wear as usual! But WHO CARES!!!?? I wasn’t looking at his clothes anyway. He is handsome in real life too! Way too handsome! I was stunned to silence as my new found friends waved me over to take a picture and I quietly sneaked back into the surging crowd. This also means that the movie didn’t start until way later than originally scheduled (another good reason why I’m glad I didn’t walk!!)!

Saito with his interpreter on the side did the introduction to the movie. The question and answer session followed its completion. Saito tried so hard to speak English, it was kind of endearing! It was cute to listen to and I must say every face in the house pretty much was smiling as he respectfully spoke and hoped everyone liked his little movie.

blank13 cast

blank 13 starred Takahashi Issei as Matsuda Koji, Saito Takumi as Matsuda Yoshiyuki, the elder brother, Matsuoka Mayu as Nishida Saori (Koiji’s wife) and Lily Franky as Matsuda Masato (the father). The rest of the cast is listed here. blank 13 is a very artsy film and low budget as it was filmed in a very short time with basically 1-2 sets! The majority of the film takes place at the father, Masato’s funeral. Masato was an absentee parent who had “went out for smokes” and never returned one day. Yoshiyuki as the eldest didn’t have as many good memories of the father and was really resentful for being there at the funeral but Koiji’s memories were different as the youngest.

The concept of the title represented the 13 years the father was absent in Koiji’s life (blank). His only memories were good of his father and even at his death he held onto them; though he did meet up with his father prior to death as you see in flashbacks. The best part of the movie was the mourners that attended his funeral. In the telling of the stories of how they met Masato, the sons were able to piece together the missing time of their father’s life and it was pretty comical! As we found out during the Q&A, all of the responses were unscripted! Once you hear that and remember what each of the actor’s came up with, it made it even more hilarious! Especially the actor playing the transgender roommate! Sorry, I don’t know his name but his anecdoctal comments at the funeral were hysterical! Overall, the movie is different and not something I would recommend to most. However, if you like really eclectic movies, blank 13 definitely fits the bill. I rated it 8/10 because it was my honey’s first attempt at directing!

It was a great trip from beginning to end! Thankfully, my flight didn’t leave until 11:00am and it was a mad dash to the car rental, then jetted to the shuttle (same driver, but this time I was grateful) and the line into the gate was mercifully short! I guess always plan your returns on Saturday morning! Would I do it again?! Absolutely! But this time I’ll shoot for Japan Cuts because its closer being in NYC, I could go for longer period and just shuttle in from my cousins part of the time. Would I go to Toronto Japanese Film Festival? That’s another yes. Toronto is a great city and easy, but congested to get around; however, I have lots of other places I would like to visit; maybe add in a trip to Niagara Falls! Another place I’ve never been!!

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