Last week I made the long journey north to attend the first weekend of the annual Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).
Traveling from Kagawa to Tokyo isn’t particularly easy and on this occasion I opted to take the Shinkansen (bullet train). I set off at 4:30am and arrived at Shinagawa, Tokyo at 9:30am, managing to get a couple of hours of neck-aching sleep on the way. I don’t have many complaints about the Shinkansen as it was much more comfortable than a regular train in terms of leg-room, but I have to admit for the price I paid I was expecting just a little bit more. A return ticket from Kagawa to Tokyo cost the same price as a return air-ticket from London to Hong Kong in 2009!
Shinagawa station in Tokyo is easily the busiest train station I’ve been to in Japan and is a maze of ticket counters, cafes and souvenir shops. Arriving on Saturday morning it was absolutely teeming with people, from businessmen, families, tourists to just about anybody else you can think of – all intent on getting a morning cup of coffee, quick snack or a crowded train to work. Call me strange, but being a Londoner, it somehow felt reassuringly familiar, especially after spending most of the year living out in the sticks.
Having done my research before-hand, I knew which stations and lines I needed to change at without getting lost and I bought two “one-day holiday passes”. These expensive little beauties enabled me to travel unlimitedly on the mass of mangled spaghetti that is the Tokyo subway and rail network. Looking as conspicuous as a 6 ft 4 foreigner possibly can, I clutched my printable subway map and successfully navigated my way to Rappongi Hills.
Despite the cloudy grey sky and morning rain which made even the brightest of green seem diminished, Roppongi Hills was still hugely impressive. And although there was certainly a lot of people, it never seemed crowded. It was a pleasant respite from the chaos of Shinagawa and quite an achievement in regards to urban planning and design.
Green “TIFF” billboards were splashed at every available location to celebrate the fact that this years’ event was “Earth-green” in respect of the many who lost their lives in the earthquake. And also as a hope for the future where Japan is keen to be seen as contributing to, developing and implementing a more eco-friendly way of living and producing energy.
As time drew on, journalists, photographers and TV cameras started to line the road, either side of the green carpet. Excited Japanese school-girls and passers-by also joined the throng, with their digital cameras primed and ready, glinting in the emerging sunshine. I found a suitable spot with a clear view of proceedings, my height giving me a distinct advantage. And as the tension built and the first few cars arrived, the vanguard of celebs began to make their way up the carpet and the circus began – except I had absolutely no idea who any of them were!
Thinking they were probably huge Asian superstars I asked a Japanese woman (in English!), standing next to me, for clarification. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know either!” She said apologetically, but still immediately starting taking pictures anyway! So I did too. And so did everybody else.
An announcement was made over the speakers in Japanese, that caused a wave of cheers and excitedly the lady told me “Jackie Chan is coming!” And just as I was fumbling with my camera’s zoom control, he strode up the carpet, accompanied by Shoko Nakagawa (a local TV personality). The flashes went off and the screams began. I instinctively aimed and started filming. And for a moment, I swear Jackie Chan paused and looked inquisitively at me with a look on his face like “Who the hell is that tall, black guy standing with all the teeny-boppers?”
When I realized he was looking in my direction I waved “Jackie!” But by then he was gone. He actually looked taller in real life than he does on TV, I mused as my brush with the great Kung-Fu master had ended in less than a few glorious seconds.
But my weekend, and the Tokyo Film Festival was only just beginning.
More on the Tokyo International Film Festival in my next blog!