The 17th Annual Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival begins in a mere five days. The opening and closing films (‘Were The World Mine’ and ‘Out at the Wedding’), as well as the hotly anticipated Thai film ‘Bangkok Love Story’, are already sold out. This is crunch time for the small group of dedicated volunteers – no one’s getting paid for this! – that has been bringing the festival to queer Nihonjin (Japanese folk), their friends, families, and allies – and whoever else in Japan is starving for images and stories of queer life – for the past 16 years. This year, we are screening more than 40 films and hosting more than 20 guests (filmmakers, actors, writers, and activists) from around the world. For these eight days, Tokyo will be a very queer place indeed!
For those unable to attend due to the misfortune of not living in Japan(!), and those seeking information in English about the day-to-day goings-on of the festival, I will be your host – Guy Coco (from the Japanese ‘gaikoku’ meaning ‘foreign country’). As my nom-de-plume suggests, I am a white, English-speaking foreigner living and (big surprise!) teaching English in the greater Tokyo area. So far I am the only hakujin (whitey!) involved with the festival as a volunteer, but that doesn’t mean I am the only foreigner. Much of Japan’s diversity is, of course, invisible to people like me, since Chinese and Koreans (many of whom are not foreigners but have been living here for generations) are the largest minority groups in Japan. But then, as queer people, we know what it’s like to represent an often invisible form of cultural diversity!
I’ve been working with the festival for the last month and a half, mostly helping them get their English-language materials ready (so if you find any errors, you have my sloppy proofreading to blame!). It’s a very international group, since most of the core staff have lived and/or worked abroad (in America, Britain, even places like Pakistan, and elsewhere) and speak excellent English. Thus, this blog will offer both an insider and an outsider’s perspective. I’m an insider to the festival, and a temporary resident of Japan, but ‘boku no nihongo wa amari yokunai desu’ (‘My Japanese is not very good!’). So I will be depending on our great English-speaking staffers, and the help of translators at our special events, to bring you as much of the action, the flavor and texture of the festival as possible.
If you are an English-speaking visitor to the festival, I want to know what your impressions are too. So watch out – I may approach you, pen in hand, questions at the ready. So brush your teeth, powder your nose, and get ready to shine!