Rei Reigns in Rotterdam

Tanaka Toshihiko’s Rei (2024)

Tanaka Toshihiko has big plans. Having won the Tiger Award in Rotterdam over the weekend for his first film, Rei, he tells Marta Bałaga in Variety that he now has his eyes set on the Palme d’Or in Cannes. He’s already set up Shumari, the second film in a projected trilogy of stories set on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. While Shumari will focus on Japanese and Korean workers forced into labor during the Second World War, the third as-yet-untitled project will take on the multiverse.

Toshihiko, an actor with a background in theater, wrote, directed, produced, edited, and stars in Rei as Masato, a deaf landscape photographer who befriends Hikari (Takara Suzuki), a Tokyo-based corporate employee. Their relationship is “the central strand in this intricate, engrossing piece of storytelling,” writes Wendy Ide in Screen. Ide raises questions about Masato’s “troubling character arc,” which she assumes is “not intentionally ableist,” but “there is no question that Tanaka is a notable talent to watch going forward, as is the magnetic Takara Suzuki and cinematographer Akio Ikeda.”

Toshihiko cites Ryusuke Hamaguchi as an influence, and in particular, the five-hour-long Happy Hour (2015). “Spending that much time with the characters felt like going on a journey together,” he tells Bałaga. “Cheating husbands, repressed homosexuality, the implosive exhaustion of single motherhood, mental and physical breakdowns, the compulsion for violence as an expression of irreconcilable woes—there’s a staggering degree of crisis explored over Rei’s three-hour runtime, and yet,” for Zachary Goldkind at In Review Online, “these hours don’t feel at all sufficient.”

The jury—Marco Müller, Ena Sendijarević, Herman Yau, Billy Woodberry, and Nadia Turincev—clearly disagrees, and the Tiger Award will be a boost to Toshihiko at this early stage in his career. Past winners include Hong Sangsoo (The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, 1997), Christopher Nolan (Following, 1999), Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, 2006), Anocha Suwichakornpong (Mundane History, 2010), and Paz Encina (EAMI, 2022).

Two Special Jury Awards were presented this year. Jaydon Martin blends fiction and nonfiction in Flathead, his portrait of blue-collar workers in Australia. “Mostly shot in starkly beautiful monochrome, with sparing detours into color,” writes Stephen Dalton at the Film Verdict, “Martin’s impressively confident debut feature is part intimate character study, part observational road movie, and part free-form poetic reverie.” Dalton finds Kiss Wagon, a “sense-scrambling Indian animated epic” from director Midhun Murali, “so dazzling that narrative incoherence is only a minor irritant, not a fatal flaw.”

Oktay Baraheni won the Big Screen Competition for his second feature, The Old Bachelor, in which a father bullies his two middle-aged sons and rents out the upper floor of his building in Tehran to an unsuspecting woman he aims to snare into marriage. The Old Bachelor is “a gripping domestic saga of bad blood and worse men,” writes Wendy Ide.

This year’s Audience Award went to Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border, which has had quite a journey since it premiered last fall in Venice, where it won a Special Jury Prize. Interweaving stories of refugees caught in a no man’s land between Belarus and Poland, border guards, and volunteer rescuers, Green Border was denounced by the Polish authorities voted out of office last October, so naturally, it became a major domestic box-office hit.

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