Vancouver's wet weather didn't deter fans from creating a mob scene at the Centre for Performing Arts in downtown Vancouver on September 29. Moviegoers started lining up hours prior to the world premiere of the dramatic feature The Vancouver Asahi at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Their collective star power threatened to overshadow the story itself—to be honest, it did—but VIFF programmers and the filmmakers spoke about the significance of the film.
"Once upon a time in Vancouver, there was a Japanese baseball team," VIFF Dragons and Tigers programmer Tony Rayns said at the premiere. "This was in the 1930 and a lot of people have forgotten about it. It's kind of a vanished history in some sense and tonight's film brings it back in a very beautiful way. It's not a documentary. It does take a few dramatic liberties with the facts….I think it captures the spirit of a certain moment in Vancouver history, and particularly the history of the Japanese in Vancouver."
A press conference was held prior to the screening, attended by the two stars as well as director Ishii Yuya and producer Inaba Naoto.
Director Ishii first came to the festival seven years ago with his film Bare-Assed Japan, which he made as a graduation project from film school.
His films Mitsuko Delivers and The Great Passage have also previously screened at VIFF.
Ishii said in Japanese at the press conference that he previously didn't know about Japanese Canadian history and that neither do most Japanese people.
He said he wanted the film to show how the Nikkei people persevered, survived, and rose above the challenges they faced at the time. He emphasized that he sought to avoid depicting them as victims of history.
Although the story is set in the 1930s, he said it was not too difficult to recreate the time period, and that he finds it more fun to create something unfamiliar. He also pointed out that the theme of the film is a universal one that even modern people can relate to.
Inaba said that he was attracted to the story of the team and how these people lived in such difficult times but still made the best of it. He also pointed out how it was the Asahi team that bridged the gap between the two nations of Canada and Japan), not statesmen or powerful people.
Inaba said that although they had hoped to make the film in Vancouver, it was impossible for them to do so (he didn't explain why). They recreated Vancouver in the 1930s on an open set in Japan. For their research, they talked to several sources here in Vancouver, including the last surviving Asahi baseball player Kaye Kamanishi, Nikkei National Museum staff, and those who lived in Poweru Gai (the Powell Street neighbourhood where the Japanese Canadian community was concentrated).
Before the screening, the cast and crew made a few brief speeches.
Of course, there was plenty of screaming from the packed house as Tsumabuki and Kamenashi hit the stage. Both stars spoke in English. (Tsumabuki also spoke in Japanese).
Kaye Kamanishi also made a special appearance on stage. He spoke in Japanese and said that the story of the film is based on an interview he had with the director. He added that he was very honoured and grateful to have this film made.
See the video below for their speeches.