Movies on the menu
"Last Samurai" Ken Watanabe joins film festival's parade of stars
THE ANNUAL fall gathering known as the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival justifiably calls itself "the premiere cultural event of Hawaii."
Besides the plethora of video and celluloid from 'round the globe stuffed into the 10-day festival, high-profile out-of-state guests help make this yearly shindig ultimately exciting.
Three of 2006's biggies include a big-name Japanese star, a renegade American director and a popular Korean actor (as the fest found out last year, inviting Korean star Lee Byung-hun certainly didn't hurt attendance, given the crossover success of that country's serial dramas).
HOW TO HIFF
The 26th Annual Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival
Dates: Friday through Oct. 29
Venues: Dole Cannery Stadium 18, Hawaii Theatre, Sunset on the Beach at Waikiki and NextDoor at 43 N. Hotel St.
Tickets: $10; $9 children, military, students and seniors; $8 HIFF Ohana members -- available at HIFF box office at Dole Cannery Stadium 18
For a schedule: Programs available at all Starbucks locations, Dole Cannery Stadium 18 and the Hawaii Theatre or online at www.hiff.org.
Opening night: "Babel," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, is director Alejandro Gonzalex Inarritu's film about intersecting stories set in the Moroccan dessert. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday at Hawaii Theatre.
Awards show: Oct. 26 at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Featuring the Halekulani Golden Orchid awards, the Maverick Award (to Kevin Smith), Achievement in Acting Award (to Ken Watanabe) and the Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography (to Matthew Libatique).
Closing night: "Hula Girls" tells of Japanese coal-miners' daughters who take up Hawaiian dance. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Hawaii Theatre.
So who will we will be craning our necks to see this year? Two tribute evenings will be devoted to Ken Watanabe and Kevin Smith. Watanabe will be the guest at a Q&A discussion Oct. 27 at Dole Cannery. It will precede a screening of "The Last Samurai," the Tom Cruise epic that introduced the Japanese star to Western audiences. (The discussion will undoubtedly touch upon his starring role in "Letters from Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood's Japanese counterpart to his "Flags of Our Fathers" that opens nationwide this weekend. "Letters" hits theaters Feb. 9.)
If you've seen the "Clerks" movies, or "Chasing Amy," or "Dogma," or "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," you know about the festival's other guest, Kevin Smith. Not only is the New Jersey native one of the most irreverant voices in independent-minded movies these days, he's a frank and entertaining speaker as well. He'll be the guest at "An Evening with Kevin Smith" on Oct. 28 at Hawaii Theatre.
Smith's new projects include an acting turn in the upcoming romantic comedy "Catch and Release," opposite Jennifer Garner (wife to his good friend Ben Affleck), Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood") and Juliette Lewis, plus a slasher horror movie.
The festival is hoping to bring a small group of Korean stars, but the one confirmed so far is Shin Hyeon-joon, better known to Korean serial drama fans as the introverted Han Tae-hwa in "Stairway to Heaven." Shin will attend the screening of the gangster comedy "Marrying the Mafia 3: Rebirth of the Family."
And there'll be another "Lost" panel to whet the appetite of its rabid fans. Executive director Chuck Boller says that those confirmed to participate include actors Terry O'Quinn and Henry Ian Cusick, and co-executive producer and director Jack Bender, who also did this year's festival trailer.
THE FESTIVAL'S Golden Maile Award has been redubbed the Halekulani Golden Orchid. Five features and five documentaries have been nominated.
This year's festival jury includes Matt Dentler, producer of the influential South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas; Elvis Mitchell, member of the National Society of Film Critics, formerly with the New York Times and now a public radio commentator as well; and actor Kal Penn, last seen in "Superman Returns," but better known for playing opposite John Cho in the cult comedy "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle."
"Babel," set in the Moroccan dessert, is the opening night film of the Hawaii International Film Festival. It stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. CLICK FOR LARGE
» Two of Korea's biggest box office hits will screen at the festival. "The Host" and "King and the Clown" are reportedly the No. 1 and No. 2 highest grossing films, respectively, in Korean film history. Both made international news for their provocative storylines. "King" was a phenomenon along the lines of "Brokeback Mountain." It's a muted love story set in the 16th-century Chosun dynasty about an effeminate clown caught between the affections for a fellow male clown and the despotic king who has condemned them both to death, but will pardon them if they can make him laugh.
"The Host" is this year's centerpiece film, a fresh take on the monster-movie genre and arguably one of the best such films in recent memory. In the tradition of "Godzilla," a mutant creature is born from the toxins that flow into the Han river from, of all places, a U.S. military base. It terrorizes Seoul with its ravenous appetite for humans. Director Bong Joon-ho turns the genre's conventions upside down in this biting commentary on Korean social and familial conventions.
» "Movies, Music and More" will incorporate live music into the festival. The lineup includes Jake Shimabukuro, who penned his first score for the festival entry "Hula Girls," and will perform solo at its closing-night screening at Hawaii Theatre; Roland and Robert Cazimero, who will perform with Robert's Halau Na Kamalei at the Sunset on the Beach screening of the documentary "Na Kamalei: Men of Hula;" and John Cruz and Keola Beamer, who will accompany the screenings of their films, "Made of Music: The Story of John Cruz" and the animated short "The Shimmering," also at the Hawaii Theatre.
» In a related event, the O Lounge on Kapiolani Boulevard will host this Friday night's "Cut & Scratch: The Sounds of Dan the Automator & Far*East Movement." Dan Nakamura is a noted hip-hop producer, known mainly for his work with the animated group Gorillaz and his collaboration with Prince Paul in the Handsome Boy Modeling School. Nakamura's Los Angeles-based group was recently featured on the soundtrack for "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
» A first for HIFF is "The Festival Video iPod," an entire evening devoted to music videos at downtown's NextDoor. An eclectic mix of material from places such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, France, Israel and, yes, even Hawaii, will be presented on Oct. 24.
» The festival is also emphasizing its initial strength in showcasing Pan-Asian cinema with "Deep Focus," which will provide expanded Q&A sessions with filmmakers following their films' screenings. Sponsor the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii is also offering subtitling training.
Discussions will follow the screenings of "4:30" (Singapore), "The Bet Collector," "Circumcision," "Inheritance," "Just Like Before" and "Summer Heat" (Philippines), "Eve and the Fire Horse" (Canada, with Chinese actors), "Gie" (Indonesia), "Gubra" (Malaysia), "Jackfruit Thorn Kiss" (Vietnam), "Metrosexual" (Thailand), the anime feature "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles" and "Saigon Love Story" (U.S.), and "Winds of God Kamikaze" (Japan).
» Hong Kong star Andy Lau's production company has started a young filmmakers' division with First Cuts, and all six of its films will be shown at the festival. (Lau, unfortunately, won't be in attendance.)
» LOCAL-BORN Eric Byler ("Charlotte Sometimes" and "Tre") returns to the festival this year with two works, his latest feature and a TV pilot for PBS. "Americanese" was a double award winner at this year's South by Southwest competition. Featuring a strong ensemble cast that includes Joan Chen and Hawaii's Kelly Hu, the film is based on Shawn Wong's novel "American Knees" and is described as "a penetrating anti-romance, filled with lush, dreamlike imagery and sharply realized emotions ... the story of two lovers perhaps meant to be together, bewildered as they hopelessly drift apart."
"My Life Disoriented" looks at the life of two Asian American sisters learning to adjust to life in a new high school in the Bay Area. Byler directed from a script by Claire Yorita Lee. It will screen twice at the Dole Cannery Stadium, 9:45 p.m. Oct. 25 and 6:15 p.m. Oct. 28. (The film's broadcast premiere will be on the "Independent Lens" series Dec. 26 on PBS in a program that will feature the grand prize-winners of the series' first online shorts festival.)
» Because of the late gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson's association with the Honolulu Marathon, a Q&A session will be held with his local friends following the screening of the documentary of "Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film" at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Dole Cannery. A "Gathering of the Weird After Party" will follow at O'Toole's Pub downtown at 902 Nuuanu Ave.
» And, finally, this year's Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography will go to Filipino American Matthew Libatique. The New York native's filmography has included such select work as Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," "Phone Booth," Spike Lee's "She Hate Me" and "Inside Man." His lenswork witll also be seen in the upcoming Hugh Jackman movie "The Fountain," and Libatique is currently in pre-production on the Marvel Comics superhero flick "Iron Man," starring Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Jon Favreau.
His seminar at 5 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Dole Cannery Stadium will include a screening of his work on "Everything is Illuminated," starring Elijah Wood.