By Chris Gallagher
TOKYO (Reuters) - Hello Kitty and Doraemon anime characters strutted their stuff on the red carpet on Thursday, as Disney's "Big Hero 6" kicked off a new-look Tokyo film festival that taps into Japan's love of animation.
The 27th Tokyo International Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 23 to 31, will hold special events alongside the main festival, including a "cosplay summit" and a Japanese food fair aimed at promoting Japan's cultural and content industries.
"Big Hero 6", Disney Animation's next big feature after last year's hit, "Frozen", centers on the bond between 14-year-old Hiro Hamada and the inflatable robot Baymax, as they and their friends battle a Kabuki-masked villain who has stolen Hiro's microbot technology.
The 3D comedy-adventure, which screened out of competition, takes place in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo, and Japanese viewers will easily recognize the influence of Tokyo life and landmarks in the film.
"The film has such a strong Japanese influence. It really is a love letter to Japan," Don Hall, co-director of "Big Hero 6," told Reuters on the red carpet at Tokyo's Roppongi Hills.
"So to have it coincide with the Tokyo film festival, it's probably the perfect place to debut it," he said, explaining why the Tokyo festival was picked for the world premiere.
"Big Hero 6" is only the second animated film to open the Tokyo festival, and is the first Walt Disney animation movie to do so.
Other anime highlights are a section on the works of "Evangelion" animator Hideaki Anno, and "Super Mario" creator Shigeru Miyamoto will premiere in 3D his "PIKMIN Short Movies," based on Nintendo's Pikmin game characters.
Japan is keen to boost its cultural exports and tourism by promoting its entertainment, fashion and other creative content under the government's "Cool Japan Initiative."
This year's festival will host a "World Cosplay Summit" for fans who dress up as their favorite anime and manga characters, and leading Japanese chefs will work the kitchen in "Tokyo Cinema Cuisine" trucks.
John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Disney Animation and Pixar, will hold a talk session on "Cool Japan".
Fifteen films will vie in the main competition section for the festival's top Sakura prize. Five are world premieres, including the lone Japanese entry "Pale Moon."
Many others are making their Asian premieres after screening at Toronto and other festivals, including French-Belgian crime thriller "The Connection," starring Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"), and drama "1001 Grams," Norway's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn heads the competition jury.
Reflecting the greater emphasis on anime and superheroes, costumed characters mingled with movie stars on the red carpet.
"I managed to see some actors in person, but I also got to see Ultraman and anime like Doraemon, as there were a lot of them, so I was really surprised," said 20-year-old Chinami Kaneko.
(Additional reporting by Chris Meyers; Editing by Tony Tharakan and Clarence Fernandez)