Prince Edward Island’s most popular export might not be its delicious potatoes, but rather a spirited redhead who lives in the pages of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. In Japan, the book and island where the story takes place are a nationwide passion, and generate much tourism in P.E.I. when Japanese tourists want to visit the home of their beloved Akage No An (red-haired Anne). This cultural interest serves as the backdrop to Looking for Anne a new Canadian-Japanese film, opening Dec. 3.
Looking for Anne is the story of 17-year-old Anri, who leaves Japan to visit P.E.I. for three weeks. Anri’s grandmother has recently passed away; all she has to relive memories of her grandmother are video clips on her cell phone and posts about flowers and culture on her grandmother’s blog. Anri stays at a B&B owned by her grandmother’s friend, Mari, and frequently socializes with an eccentric retired neighbor, Jeff, and the island’s Japanese tourists. She has a secret mission, however: to find her grandmother Shizuka’s first love, a WWII veteran. They nicknamed each other after the main characters of Looking for Anne , Gilbert and Anne.
Anri’s only clues are the copy of Anne of Green Gables that “Gilbert” gave Shizuka as a gift and the knowledge that he used to live near a lighthouse. She gradually comes out of her shell, befriending some of the houseguests and Jeff, despite his habit of playing bass clarinet late into the evening. Anri slowly unravels the mystery in Nancy Drew fashion, riding her bicycle to the various lighthouses while making new friends, finding love and discovering the value of her grandmother’s message of peace and love through Anne.
Looking for Anne is Takako Miyahira’s directorial debut, and took only 26 days to shoot after two years of preproduction. Miyahira is a protÃ©gÃ© of the film’s producer Claude Gagnon, famous for his 2005 film Kamataki. The film was sponsored by SociÃ©tÃ© de dÃ©veloppement des entreprises culturelles, the federal government as well as the provincal governments of Quebec and P.E.I.
Miyahira said that, although the process was stressful, she had the benefit of an experienced staff. The summer of 2008 was very rainy in P.E.I., forcing the crew to budget their time effectively. “But magically,” Miyahira excitedly recounted, “every time we had to shoot an outdoor scene, the sky was 100 per cent blue!”
After touring across all 47 prefectures of Japan in an RV and booking art house theatres to show the film, Miyahira has now garnered international attention for her first film, winning the coveted prizes of best film and best director at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore.
Casting for the film includes French-Canadian actor Daniel Pilon, as well as many Japanese actors including Hanako, who plays Anri and Japanese-Italian opera star Rosanna Zanbon. The film seamlessly interweaves English, Japanese and a little bit of French.
Japan’s passion for Anne of Green Gables can be traced back to the early 1950s, when it was made a mandatory reading in all high schools. Miyahira remembers Anne of Green Gables as an influential book in her life. “Anne was very fun to read,” she remarked on reading it in high school,”but it also teaches us how to live life. Even though it is a book that was published 100 years ago, it still teaches us the true root of happiness, in communicating with one another.”
Despite the century that has passed, that ability to connect remains. “We look at technology today, and we often remark about how there are many bad things done with technology. But I wanted to explore the goodness of it as well, how Anri is able to still feel connected to her grandmother, despite her passing,” she explained. “Human beings can develop a nuclear bomb, but at the same time, it is a human being that has written a book that has inspired us to live a better life.”
Looking for Anne opens on Dec. 3 at the AMC Forum.