Japan’s ‘Naked Men’ Festival Succumbs to Aging of Population

Ōshū, Japan — Steam rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time. 

Their passionate chants of “Jasso, joyasa” (meaning “Evil, be gone”) echoed through a cedar forest in northern Japan’s Iwate region, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite. 

Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the aging local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual.  

The “Sominsai” festival, regarded as one of the strangest festivals in Japan, is the latest tradition impacted by the country’s aging population crisis that has hit rural communities hard.  

“It is very difficult to organize a festival of this scale,” said Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the temple that opened in 729.  

“You can see what happened today — so many people are here and it’s all exciting. But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that have to be done,” he said.  

“I cannot be blind to the difficult reality.”  

Aging population 

More than 1 in 10 people in Japan are 80 years old or older, and almost a third of its population is older than 65, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The aging of Japan’s population has forced the closure of countless schools, shops and services, particularly in small or rural communities.  

Kokuseki Temple’s Sominsai festival used to take place from the seventh day of Lunar New Year to the following morning.  

But during the Covid pandemic, it was scaled down to prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals. 

The final festival was a shortened version, ending around 11 p.m., but it drew the biggest crowd in recent memory, local residents said.  

As the sun set, men in white loincloths came to the mountain temple, bathed in a creek and marched around temple’s ground. 

They clenched their fists against the chill of a winter breeze, all the while chanting “Jasso, joyasa.” 

Some held small cameras to record their experience, while dozens of television crews followed the men through the temple’s stone steps and dirt pathways. 

As the festival reached its climax, hundreds of men packed inside the wooden temple shouting, chanting and aggressively jostling over a bag of talismans. 

Changing norms

Toshiaki Kikuchi, a local resident who claimed the talismans and who helped organize the festival for years, said he hoped the ritual would return in the future.  

“Even under a different format, I hope to maintain this tradition,” he said. “There are many things that you can appreciate only if you take part.” 

Many participants and visitors voiced both sadness and understanding about the festival’s ending. 

“This is the last of this great festival that has lasted 1,000 years. I really wanted to participate in this festival,” Yasuo Nishimura, 49, a caregiver from Osaka, told AFP. 

Other temples across Japan continue to host similar festivals where men wear loincloths and bathe in freezing water or fight over talismans. 

Some festivals are adjusting their rules in line with changing demographics and social norms so that they can continue to exist — such as letting women take part in previously male-only ceremonies.  

Starting next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and other ways to continue its spiritual practices. 

“Japan is facing a falling birthrate, aging population, and lack of young people to continue various things,” Nishimura said. “Perhaps it is difficult to continue the same way as in the past.” 

Eva Peron Maintains Grip on Argentina Decades After Her 1952 Death

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Early every morning, just as she reaches her workplace at a labor union in Buenos Aires, Ángeles Celerier heads to the chapel and prays to Saint Cajetan, Saint Teresa and Eva Perón.

Perón — unlike the others — has not been canonized by the Vatican, but this doesn’t matter to Celerier.

“For me, she is the saint of the people,” the 56-year-old Argentine said.

Many union members think of Evita as their patron or gaze at her photos with nostalgia, feeling that she and her husband, three-time President Juan Domingo Perón, brought prosperity to their country through an equality and social justice-driven movement that was named after him in the 1940s: Peronism.

That movement is currently the biggest opposition force in Argentina. And some political observers attribute the recent vote to elect President Javier Milei as a means to defeat Peronism and its previous hold on the presidency.

“For us, she is the spiritual reservoir of the people,” said Julio Piumato, human rights director at the largest union in Argentina. He signed a 2019 document requesting Evita’s beatification.

“No other figure has a deeper significance,” Piumato said. “The humble sectors are synthesized in Evita.”

According to the union leader, between 1946 and 1952, when Evita died of cancer at age 33 and Perón concluded his first term, the couple dignified the working class and prioritized social justice.

“Saints show us paths to reach Christ and intercede before God for us,” reads the beatification request delivered to the archbishop. “In our homeland, one generation after another continues to be converted by the humanist and Christian message of the standard bearer of the humble.”

Aside from a 1996 movie starring Madonna or Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1978 musical, many foreigners know relatively little about this former first lady who died 71 years ago.

But in Argentina, Evita is a constant presence. Her face is printed on 100-peso bills, decorates a mural on a key government building, and greets guests from an altar placed in a restaurant called Saint Evita.

“I carry her image in my wallet, and I have it at home in a small picture frame with a candle,” Celerier said. “I ask her for protection.”

How a first lady turned into a champion of the poor

The secret behind the fascination that she awakens might be hidden in her name.

Long before becoming first lady, she called herself María Eva, a girl who left the town of Los Toldos to try her luck as an actress in Buenos Aires. As a modest film star she was known as Eva Duarte and afterwards became Eva Perón, the president’s wife. Then came Evita.

“Evita is the one who is close to the people,” said Santiago Regolo, a researcher at Museum Evita. “People began to call her that, and that construction is linked to the political and social work that distinguished her from the women who preceded her and take her as an example to this day.”

Evita was the one who paid visits to elders and single mothers. The one who handed out toys for children and bread for families. The one who promoted paid vacations for workers who had never been able to afford a break and gave a final push to achieve the women’s right to vote in 1947.

She has also inspired some feminists — who carry her photo along with their green scarves during protests — as well as a political organization that asks for social transformation using her image as a logo.

“Having Evita on our flag represents being with those in the lower classes and trying to vindicate her name over time,” said Iván Tchorek, from the Evita Movement, which has 155,000 members nationwide and was created after an economic crisis in 2001.

She’s relevant as ever, Tchorek said, because Peronism is. Thousands of workers like him recently led a general strike against the right-wing Milei, who defeated Peronist candidate Sergio Massa last November. Soon after, Milei issued a decree that would revoke or modify hundreds of existing laws in order to limit the power of unions and deregulate an economy that has traditionally featured heavy state intervention.

Even as a union standard-bearer in polarized times, Evita and her memory have the ability to transcend politics. “Certain issues are linked to matters of a sentimental, sacralized nature,” Regolo said. “She is seen as a companion, a sister, a mother for the humble.”

At her home in an impoverished neighborhood outside Buenos Aires, 71-year-old Rita Cantero says she almost met Evita. When her mother asked the first lady for help, she was pregnant with her.

“My mother used to say that Evita was very supportive, that people really liked her for the service she provided.”

Aware of the challenges of being a single mother, Rafaela Escobar attended a public event held by Evita in a plaza near her home. After being able to approach her and confide in her distress, Evita hugged her and said: “Don’t worry, I will help.”

Three weeks later, Escobar received a cradle and clothes for her unborn child.

Cantero says her mother never met Evita again, but she sent her letters and the first lady replied with envelopes carrying money.

“For us she is like a saint,” Cantero said. “Many judged her because she was a woman, but she was an honest, hard-working girl. She fought for our nation and was the force of Perón.”

Evita’s mixed legacy and the fight over her embalmed body

Perón died two decades after Evita, in 1974, but his name continues to spark both admiration and hatred, yearning and blame.

His critics — among them legislator Fernando Iglesias, who has published several books contending Peronism ruined the country — claim that Perón was an authoritarian leader and his movement’s social assistance disguised corruption and patronage while generating too much dependence on the government.

Critics address Eva too. Her foundation pressed donors for resources, some say. She was careerist and a hypocrite, others assert. On the one hand, she claimed to defend the poor and on the other, she dressed in Dior.

“Would she be the saint of the lazy?” a user tweeted when the union requested her beatification. “Patron of criminals,” someone else wrote.

Erasing her from history was once a command. After a coup overthrew Perón in 1955, it was forbidden to say her name, display her image or keep her gifts. The military removed her embalmed body from a union’s headquarters, where it was initially kept, and sent it to Europe.

The body came back after 14 years, and when the military took over again in the 1970s, it was given to her family under one condition: She would be buried 8 meters underground, sealed in a marble crypt so that no one would ever see her again.

“Evita is the best thing that could have happened to this country,” said Carolina Castro, 22, holding back tears next to Evita’s grave in Recoleta Cemetery, where Argentines and foreigners alike honor her with flowers, letters and rosaries.

According to Castro’s mother, 56-year-old Andrea Vellesi, Evita is a sensitive topic because their family is going through a difficult time. “I have never been in such anguish,” Vellesi said about economic measures that Milei recently decreed and that she claims hurt her business.

Víctor Biscia, 36, says that he doesn’t keep photos of Evita at home, but he does have images of the late President Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández, another Peronist couple that prompts devotion and resentment among Argentines.

“They were key to achieving rights that are being curtailed by the current government,” said Biscia, who thinks of Fernández as a sort of 21st century Evita.

“She reflects a lot of what we are as Argentines,” says Gimena Villagra, 27, standing next to Evita’s tomb. “I don’t think there’s anyone for whom she doesn’t mean something.”

Dior Postpones Hong Kong Fashion Show ‘Indefinitely’

HONG KONG — Dior has postponed a fashion show set to be held in Hong Kong next month, a city official confirmed Saturday, dealing a blow to the financial hub’s ambitions to boost its economy through major events.

Hong Kong is courting top international celebrities and brands in the hope of rebooting its reputation, which has been battered by years of social unrest and strict pandemic curbs. 

The Dior fashion show — meant to feature artistic director Kim Jones and the men’s autumn collection — was to be one of several “mega events” touted last month by Hong Kong’s culture, sports and tourism chief, Kevin Yeung, as part of the city’s drive to become an event capital. 

But Yeung’s office confirmed to AFP on Saturday that it had “just been notified” by organizers that the fashion show would not go ahead as scheduled on March 23. 

“Large-scale events are postponed from time to time, and we continue to welcome large-scale events to take place in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for Yeung’s office said. 

Dior said the show had been “postponed indefinitely” without giving specifics, according to a company statement quoted by the South China Morning Post. 

According to the South China Morning Post, the event was expected to cost about $100 million ($12.8 million U.S.) and draw nearly 1,000 attendees.  

Louis Vuitton in November held its men’s pre-fall 2024 show in Hong Kong, led by creative director Pharrell Williams and drawing celebrity guests from China and South Korea. 

The much-hyped runway show was seen as a boon to Hong Kong’s international image and a sign of the luxury giant’s commitment to Asian markets. 

Beatles To Get Fab Four of Biopics

NEW YORK — The Beatles are getting the big-screen biopic treatment in not just one film, but a Fab Four of movies that will give each band member their own spotlight — all of which are to be directed by Sam Mendes.

For the first time, the Beatles, long among the stingiest rights granters, are giving full life and music rights to a movie project. Sony Pictures announced Monday a deal that may dwarf all music biopics that have come before it, with the stories of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr spread out over a quartet of films.

The films, conceived by Mendes, are expected to roll out theatrically in innovative fashion, with the movies potentially coexisting or intersecting in theaters. Precise release plans will be announced at a later date. Sony is targeting 2027 for their release.

McCartney, Starr and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison have all signed off on the project through the band’s Apple Corps. Ltd. Sony Music Publishing controls the rights to the majority of Beatles songs.

“I’m honored to be telling the story of the greatest rock band of all time, and excited to challenge the notion of what constitutes a trip to the movies,” Mendes said in a statement.

Each film will be from the perspective of a Beatle.

“We intend this to be a uniquely thrilling, and epic cinematic experience: four films, told from four different perspectives which tell a single story about the most celebrated band of all time,” said producer Pippa Harris. “To have The Beatles’ and Apple Corps’ blessing to do this is an immense privilege.”

The Beatles’ most famous forays into film were in their early years. Between 1964 and 1970, they appeared in five movies, including “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and the animated “Yellow Submarine” (1968). They’ve, of course, been the subject of many documentaries, most recently Peter Jackson’s 2021 “The Beatles: Get Back.”

In 2023, the Beatles reunited with the aid of artificial intelligence in the newly released song “Now and Then.” The recording was made possible by technology used by Jackson on “Get Back,” and featured a music video made by the New Zealand director.

Attempts to dramatize the Beatles’ story have been more sporadic and less impactful. A 1979 biopic, made when Lennon was still alive, called “The Birth of the Beatles” was produced with Beatles original drummer Pete Best as an adviser. The 1994 indie drama “Backbeat” chronicled Lennon’s relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe before the Beatles were famous. “Nowhere Boy” (2009) starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a teenage Lennon.

But in the last decade, music biopics have become big business. Box-office hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,””Rocketman” and “Elvis” have sent Hollywood executives chasing the next jukebox blockbuster. Over Presidents Day weekend, “Bob Marley: One Love,” produced with the Marley estate, was the No. 1 movie in theaters. A Michael Jackson biopic is in production.

“Theatrical movie events today must be culturally seismic. Sam’s daring, large-scale idea is that and then some,” said Tom Rothman, chair and chief executive of Sony Pictures’ Motion Picture Group.

The combination of Mendes’ team “with the music and the stories of four young men who changed the world, will rock audiences all over the globe,” Rothman said. “We are deeply grateful to all parties and look forward ourselves to breaking some rules with Sam’s uniquely artistic vision.”

Strike Closes Eiffel Tower in Blow to Tourists Ahead of Paris Olympics

Paris — The Eiffel Tower, one of the most visited tourist sites in the world, closed on Monday as staff went on strike in protest against the way the Paris monument is managed financially, disappointing the crowds below.

The strike comes as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which begin on July 26 and will feature metal from the tower in the winners’ medals.

Visitors stood outside the barriers of the tower grounds in front of a giant screen announcing the strike.

“It’s a real shame, really, because we come just for three days, and we’re not going to be able to get up,” Nelson Navarro, from Norfolk, England, said.

Vito Santos, from Canada, had planned to revisit the monument 15 years after his honeymoon and show if off to his children.

“It’s disappointing… The plan was to come here really early to get a ticket as early as possible. However, it was a surprise for us, the strike is here, so we cannot make the tour,” he said.

Unions claim Paris City Hall, which owns 99% of the company that oversees the tower, Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), is underestimating the cost of maintenance and repairs to the monument planned ahead of the Olympics.

This in turn could result in lax maintenance work and put visitors at risk, they say.

This is the second time this year staff have gone on strike for the same reason.

The wrought-iron 324-meter (1,063 ft) high tower, built by Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century, welcomes about six million visitors each year.

Berlin Film Fest Grapples With Nazi Past, Far-Right Threat

BERLIN — This week’s Berlin international film festival is wrestling on- and off-screen with the weight of the Nazi past and the menace of a resurgent far right.

The 74th Berlinale, as the event is known, has a reputation for confronting political realities head-on with high-profile movies and hot-tempered debates.

German director Julia von Heinz brought together an unlikely pair, U.S. actor Lena Dunham and Britain’s Stephen Fry, for her drama “Treasure,” about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland with his journalist daughter.

Inspired by a true story, the film shows their journey following the fall of the Iron Curtain, after decades of family silence about the Nazi period.

Fry plays the seemingly jovial Edek searching for a connection with his uptight daughter Ruth (Dunham).

Their travels take them to Edek’s childhood home in Lodz, where they make the chilling discovery that a family living in his old flat is still using his parents’ porcelain tea service, silverware and a green velvet sofa they abandoned when they were deported.

Fearful it is the last chance to record his memories, Ruth convinces Edek to return to Auschwitz.

‘A new perspective’

Von Heinz, speaking after a warmly received screening, said that a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of the Gaza war had spurred her to finish the film for the Berlinale.

She rejected suggestions there had been “enough” movies dealing with the Nazi period.

“There can never be enough stories to be told about this and I think we are giving it a new perspective,” she said.

Fry added: “While history may not repeat itself, as somebody once put it, (it) rhymes and there are similar feelings now as we know rising up.”

The actor, who had several relatives who were killed at Auschwitz, said it was “an extraordinary feeling” to shoot scenes outside the former death camp.

Dunham, who also lost ancestors in the Holocaust, insisted its lessons are both rooted in the Jewish experience and transcend it.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the far right, be it here or in the U.S. — there’s an incredible and shocking amount of anti-Semitic rhetoric and there’s also a shocking amount of Islamophobic rhetoric, anti-Black rhetoric, transphobic rhetoric,” she said. “The goal is to isolate people based on their identities and make them feel inhuman and that’s a universal story unfortunately.”

Resistance ‘superheroes’

“From Hilde, With Love,” starring Liv Lisa Fries of international hit series “Babylon Berlin,” also debuted at the festival over the weekend.

It tells the true story of Hilde Coppi, a member of the “Red Orchestra” anti-Nazi resistance group, who gave birth to a son in prison while awaiting her execution for “high treason” in 1942.

Director Andreas Dresen grew up in communist East Germany, a region where the far-right AfD is poised to make strong gains in key state elections later this year.

He said that in school, resistance members were often portrayed as larger-than-life “superheroes,” meaning many felt incapable of having similar courage to stand up to authority.

Fries, whose vivid portrayal impressed critics, said Coppi joined the Red Orchestra in trying to sabotage the Nazi war effort out of a basic sense of right and wrong.

“It was not only decency but also a sense of solidarity — solidarity is always worth standing up for,” she said.

Dresen stripped the movie of historical images familiar from Nazi movies such as “waving swastika flags and thumping jackboots.”

“Political terror is part of our present and unfortunately not as far away as we would like,” he said. “I really wish this film weren’t so topical.”

“From Hilde, With Love” is one of 20 films in competition for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize Saturday.

Commitment to ’empathy’

The two films premiered amid a fierce debate over whether the Berlinale should continue to invite AfD politicians to its galas.

A bombshell revelation last month — that party members attended a meeting outside Berlin at which mass deportations of foreigners and “poorly assimilated” German citizens were discussed — raised the stakes.

After initially insisting that the elected representatives should attend, the Berlinale backtracked and disinvited five AfD officials, citing its commitment to “empathy, awareness and understanding.”

The move was widely praised by the artistic community, but dissenters argued that democratic culture meant tolerating even offensive views.

Kenyan Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o, the festival’s first black jury president, was asked whether she would have attended the opening ceremony Thursday in the presence of far-right officials.

“I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question,” she replied. “I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position.”

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Stirs Up $27.7 Million Weekend at Box Office

New York — Paramount Pictures’ Bob Marley biopic “Bob Marley: One Love” outperformed expectations to debut at No. 1 at the box office with a $27.7 million opening weekend, while Sony’s “Madame Web” flopped with one of the lowest debuts for a movie centered on a Marvel character.

Both films launched in theaters on Tuesday to rope in Valentine’s Day moviegoers. But on a weekend that was once expected to go to “Madame Web,” “One Love” emerged as the much-preferred option in theaters, despite largely poor reviews.

Instead, “One Love,” starring Kingsley Ben-Adir and produced with the involvement of the Marley estate, performed roughly on par with previous hit musical biopics like “Rocketman” and “Elvis.” Paramount is forecasting that “One Love” will gross $51 million over its first six days, including estimates for President’s Day on Monday. It added $29 million from 47 international territories.

Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount, noted that pre-release projections forecast a six-day total closer to $30 million for “One Love.” But moviegoers from a wide range turned out for the first big-screen biopic of the Rastafarian legend.

“It was across all generations. It wasn’t just a movie for an older audience that grew up with Bob Marley’s music,” said Aronson. “Our highest quadrant was (age) 18 to 24. A third of the audience was under 25. That, to me, speaks volumes.”

Produced for about $70 million, “One Love,” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, chronicles Marley during the making of the 1977 album “Exodus” while leading up to a pivotal concert for his native Jamaica. Among the movie’s producers are Marley’s children, Ziggy and Cedella, and his wife, Rita.

Ziggy Marley, in a statement Sunday, said: “We thank the people for embracing this film and in so doing helping to highlight the message of one love.”

Though critics dinged the film (43% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) for relying on biopic conventions, audiences gave it a much higher grade, with an “A” CinemaScore. That kind of audience response plus the strong opening should bode well for the film’s run.

“Madame Web,” however, was dead on arrival. Over six days, Sony is estimating a $15.2 million weekend and a six-day $25.8 million haul. Audiences (a “C+” CinemaScore) agreed with critics (13% “fresh”).

Such launches were once unfathomable for stand-alone superhero films. But the film, an extension of Sony’s universe of Spider-Man films, struggled to shed the bad buzz surrounding the $80 million project. In it, Dakota Johnson stars as a New York paramedic with clairvoyant powers.

“The entire superhero genre has had a really rough go of it over the past year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. “Certain things are no longer a sure bet. Except maybe now, the musical biopic has become the go-to genre. It just shows how tastes can change.”

Sony’s Spider-Man spinoffs have been mostly hit and miss. Its two “Venom” films have together surpassed $1.3 billion worldwide. But 2022’s poorly received “Morbius” collected just $167.4 million globally. “Madame Web” still couldn’t come close to the $39 million domestic opening weekend for “Morbius.” In 61 overseas markets, “Madame Web” added $25.7 million.

The better news for Sony’s Spider-verse came Saturday night at the 51st Annie Awards, where “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” won best feature and collected seven prizes in total. “Across the Spider-Verse” is nominated for best animated feature at the Academy Awards — and the Annie Awards can often be a good predictor of winner.

The 2024 box office has gotten off to a sobering start for Hollywood, and the disappointing result for “Madame Web” won’t help. Moviegoing has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks, while 2023’s strikes have impacted this year’s release schedules. Even with the strong “One Love” opening, ticket sales were down 15% on the weekend compared to 2023, according to ComScore.

Expectations are high for “Dune: Part Two,” opening March 1. Until then, “Bob Marley: One Love” will be jammin’.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Bob Marley: One Love,” $27.7 million.

  2. “Madame Web,” $15.2 million.

  3. “Argylle,” $4.7 million.

  4. “Migration,” $3.8 million.

  5. “The Chosen,” Episodes 4-6, $3.4 million.

  6. “Wonka,” $3.4 million.

  7. “The Beekeeper,” $3.3 million.

  8. “Anyone But You,” $2.4 million.

  9. “Lisa Frankenstein,” $2 million.

  10. “Land of Bad,” $1.8 million.

And the Winner Is… London Rolls Out Red Carpet for BAFTA Film Awards 

London — Hollywood stars descended on London on Sunday for the annual BAFTA Film Awards, where U.S. historical drama “Oppenheimer,” one of the highest-grossing films of 2023, leads nominations for Britain’s top movie honors. 

The three-hour epic about the making of the atomic bomb during World War Two has 13 nods, including for the night’s top prize — best film — which it is the current favorite to win. 

Also leading betting odds are the film’s Irish star Cillian Murphy — who plays the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer — to win the leading actor prize and Briton Christopher Nolan for best director. 

“We’re just thrilled, we’re kind of overwhelmed by it all,” Murphy told the BAFTA red carpet livestream of the film’s nominations. “It’s an amazing feeling for … everyone that worked on the movie.” 

The other contenders for best film include Emma Stone’s sex-charged gothic comedy “Poor Things”; “The Zone of Interest,” about the commandant of Auschwitz and his family living next to the death camp; Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the murders of members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s; courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall”; and “The Holdovers,” a comedy set in a boys’ boarding school. 

“Poor Things” has 11 nominations, including one for previous BAFTA and Oscar winner Stone, who is favorite to win the leading actress category. 

“We just hope that people feel like this is a unique cinema experience and it says something about the world,” writer Tony McNamara, whose “Poor Things” script is nominated for adapted screenplay, told Reuters on the ceremony’s red carpet at the Royal Festival Hall, by the River Thames in central London.  

None of the best director contenders has previously won the award and four out of the six are first-time director nominees, including the only woman on the list, Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.”  

“I’m very surprised to be the only woman,” Triet told Reuters. “Things are not coming naturally so we have to push doors open.” 

“Barbie,” the highest grossing film of 2023, has five nominations overall, including leading actress for Margot Robbie and supporting actor for Ryan Gosling. 

As well as a spate of celebrities, the guest list also includes BAFTA President Prince William, who is attending without his wife Kate, who recently underwent surgery. 

Known as the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), the ceremony will be hosted by actor David Tennant. 

Solemn Monument to Japanese American WWII Detainees Lists More Than 125,000 Names

Los Angeles — Samantha Sumiko Pinedo and her grandparents file into a dimly lit enclosure at the Japanese American National Museum and approach a massive book splayed open to reveal columns of names. Pinedo is hoping the list includes her great-grandparents, who were detained in Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. 

“For a lot of people, it feels like so long ago because it was World War II. But I grew up with my Bompa (great-grandpa), who was in the internment camps,” Pinedo says.

A docent at the museum in Los Angeles gently flips to the middle of the book — called the Ireichō — and locates Kaneo Sakatani near the center of a page. This was Pinedo’s great-grandfather, and his family can now honor him.

On Feb. 19, 1942, following the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry to WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry who were considered potentially dangerous. 

From the extreme heat of the Gila River center in Arizona, to the biting winters of Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Japanese Americans were forced into hastily built barracks, with no insulation or privacy, and surrounded by barbed wire. They shared bathrooms and mess halls, and families of up to eight were squeezed into 20-by-25 foot (6-by-7.5 meter) rooms. Armed U.S. soldiers in guard towers ensured nobody tried to flee.

 

When the 75 holding facilities on U.S. soil closed in 1946, the government published Final Accountability Rosters listing the name, sex, date of birth and marital status of the Japanese Americans held at the 10 largest facilities. There was no clear consensus of who or how many had been detained nationwide.

Duncan Ryūken Williams, the director of the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California, knew those rosters were incomplete and riddled with errors, so he and a team of researchers took on the mammoth task of identifying all the detainees and honoring them with a three-part monument called “Irei: National Monument for the WWII Japanese American Incarceration.”

“We wanted to repair that moment in American history by thinking of the fact that this is a group of people, Japanese Americans, that was targeted by the government. As long as you had one drop of Japanese blood in you, the government told you you didn’t belong,” Williams said.

The Irei project was inspired by stone Buddhist monuments called Ireitōs that were built by detainees at camps in Manzanar, California, and Amache, Colorado, to memorialize and console the spirits of internees who died.

The first part of the Irei monument is the Ireichō, the sacred book listing 125,284 verified names of Japanese American detainees.

“We felt like we needed to bring dignity and personhood and individuality back to all these people,” Williams said. “The best way we thought we could do that was to give them their names back.”

The second element, the Ireizō, is a website set to launch on Monday, the Day of Remembrance, which visitors can use to search for additional information about detainees. Ireihi is the final part: A collection of light installations at incarceration sites and the Japanese American National Museum.

Williams and his team spent more than three years reaching out to camp survivors and their relatives, correcting misspelled names and data errors and filling in the gaps. They analyzed records in the National Archives of detainee transfers, as well as Enemy Alien identification cards and directories created by detainees.

“We feel fairly confident that we’re at least 99% accurate with that list,” Williams said.

The team recorded every name in order of age, from the oldest person who entered the camps to the last baby born there.

Williams, who is a Buddhist priest, invited leaders from different faiths, Native American tribes and social justice groups to attend a ceremony introducing the Ireichō to the museum.

Crowds of people gathered in the Little Tokyo neighborhood to watch camp survivors and descendants of detainees file into the museum, one by one, holding wooden pillars, called sobata, bearing the names of each of the camps. At the end of the procession, the massive, weighty book of names was carried inside by multiple faith leaders. Williams read Buddhist scripture and led chants to honor the detainees.

Those sobata now line the walls of the serene enclosure where the Ireichō will remain until Dec. 1. Each bears the name — in English and Japanese — of the camp it represents. Suspended from each post is a jar containing soil from the named site.

Visitors are encouraged to look for their loved ones in the Ireichō and leave a mark under their names using a Japanese stamp called a hanko.

The first people to stamp it were some of the last surviving camp detainees.

So far, 40,000 visitors have made their mark. For Williams, that interaction is essential.

“To honor each person by placing a stamp in the book means that you are changing the monument every day,” Williams said.

Sharon Matsuura, who visited the Ireichō to commemorate her parents and husband who were incarcerated in Camp Amache, says the monument has an important role to play in raising awareness, especially for young people who may not know about this harsh chapter in America’s story.

“It was a very shameful part of history that the young men and women were good enough to fight and die for the country, but they had to live in terrible conditions and camps,” Matsuura says. “We want people to realize these things happened.”

Many survivors remain silent about what they endured, not wanting to relive it, Matsuura says.

Pinedo watches as her grandmother, Bernice Yoshi Pinedo, carefully stamps a blue dot beneath her father’s name. The family stands back in silence, taking in the moment, yellow light casting shadows from the jars of soil on the walls.

Kaneo Sakatani was only 14 when he was detained in Tule Lake, in far northern California.

“It’s sad,” Bernice says. “But I feel very proud that my parents’ names were in there.” 

Nepal Pursues Sacred Items Smuggled Abroad

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s gods and goddess are returning home.

An unknown number of sacred statues of Hindu deities were stolen and smuggled abroad in the past. Now dozens are being repatriated to the Himalayan nation, part of a growing global effort to return such items to countries in Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

Last month, four idols and masks of Hindu gods were returned to Nepal from the United States by museums and a private collector.

Among them was a 16th century statue of Uma-Maheswora, an avatar of the gods Shiva and Parvati, that was stolen four decades ago. It was not clear who took it or how it ended up at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, which handed it over to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Devotees celebrated its return in Patan, south of the capital, Kathmandu. The stone-paved alleys were crowded with devotees offering money and flowers. Men in traditional attire played drums and cymbals and chanted prayers.

“I cannot say how extremely happy I am right now,” said Ram Maya Benjankar, a 52-year-old who said she had cried as a child after learning the statue had been stolen and waited years for its return.

The statue had simply disappeared from their neighborhood, she said.

The majority of Nepal’s 29 million people are Hindu, and every neighborhood has a temple that houses such items. They are rarely guarded, making it easy for thieves.

For Nepalese, the idols have religious significance but no monetary value. For smugglers, however, they can bring huge value abroad. For years, there was little attention given to the thefts or any effort made at recovery.

That has changed in recent years as the government, art lovers and campaigners pursue stolen heritage items. They have been successful in many cases.

A group representing the ethnic Newar community from Nepal in the U.S. heard about the reappearance of the Uma-Maheswora statue at the Brooklyn Museum and took the initiative to bring it home.

“We were very sad to see that our gods were locked in the basement. We were then determined that we need to take back the heritage,” said Bijaya Man Singh, a member of the group that carried the four idols and masks back to Nepal.

Now the temple in Patan is being prepared to reinstate the Uma-Maheswora statue. Following the welcome ceremony, it was placed on a chariot carried by devotees and taken to a museum, where it will be kept under security until its final move.

More than 20 other stolen artifacts are in the pipeline to be repatriated to Nepal in the near future, according to Jayaram Shrestha, director at the National Museum in Kathmandu. Most will return from the United States and Europe.

Shrestha has built a special room to exhibit repatriated items so the public can come and worship if they want. There are currently 62 statues on display.

“As we expect many to come soon, we are expanding the section of the museum,” Shrestha said. “I don’t want to store them in storage. They should be made available.”

It has become easier to locate stolen items as awareness grows among Nepalis at home and abroad. They can now track artifacts online when they are exhibited or put up for auction.

And more collectors and museums now believe they should be taken back to where they belong, Shrestha said.

“The Nepal government has been taking initiative to get them back with recovery campaigns and using diplomatic channels, embassies in foreign countries,” he said.

“We have made it clear that they need to be reinstated to their original place and security ensured to keep these thousands-of-years-old artifacts safe.”” said Nepal’s foreign minister, Narayan Prakash Saud.

London Fashion Week Celebrates Multiculturalism, Urban Life

LONDON — The cultural richness brought by migrations across the world, familial nostalgia and the frenetic pace of London life marked the second day of the city’s Fashion Week on Saturday as up-and-coming designers showed off their styles for the season ahead.

Some 60 designers, ranging from rising talents to renowned brands like Burberry, are exhibiting their new designs over five days, hoping to draw the interest of buyers and fashion influencers.

The 40th anniversary edition of the event is also introducing greater diversity and inclusivity in terms of body shapes, ages, and skin colors of the models, as well as in the designers’ collections.

Multiculturalism in spotlight

Sierra Leone-born designer Foday Dumbuya’s Labrum London brand closed the day with its “Journey Through Color” collection, celebrating the diversity of cultures brought by immigrants.

The winner of the 2023 Elizabeth II Award for British Design focused on texture plays, newspaper patterns or monogram patterns on more classic cuts.

There were as many tones of color — from royal blue to black, orange, brown, yellow and green — as there were “inspiring stories” from immigrants.

Some models wore suitcases as headgear, a reference to people fleeing conflict taking their belongings with them.

“People move for different reasons, and when they move, they move their culture with them. And we wanted to celebrate that tonight,” Dumbuya told AFP.

One of the models carried on his back a large frame with dozens of flags of “countries that have been involved in key migration throughout history,” including the Palestinian flag.

It was a political message and a call for tolerance, argued the creator.

“It’s just to showcase you got to support each other. Where we are does not matter. People’s life is what is important,” Dumbuya said. “Wherever you are … Palestinian, Jewish, whatever it is, that world belong to us. It’s just saying don’t just demonize these people.”

Old photographs

In her show, Dublin-born menswear designer Robyn Lynch drew inspiration from her sister’s career as a Gaelic dancer, using old photographs of high kicks, spangled costumes and passionate spectators for inspiration.

“I vividly remember spending all these weekends in sports halls at competitions seeing all the glitz and drama that happened on and off stage,” said the designer, who used Celtic knots and monograms in her designs.

Lynch’s designs featured diamante encrusted jorts (jean shorts), a long line of hoodies with elastic toggle belts and laser-etched jeans with a color palette of hickory brown, screen blue, matte black and oat milk white.

Life in the metropolis

Earlier, models paraded in London’s famous red double-decker buses in outfits inspired by traditional dance.

British designer Ricky Wesley Harriott kicked off his brand SRVC’s show with a collection named “Human Resource,” inspired by modern “professional women’s outfits.”

The designer had his models, all perched on vertiginous heels, parade on the iconic red double-decker buses of London to “celebrate life in the metropolis.”

The show featured rigid and structured jackets with pronounced shoulders, in dark colors with flashy accessories, from XXL silver hoop earrings to rings covering every finger.

Fairy tales

Designer Priya Ahluwalia, who draws inspiration from her Indian-Nigerian heritage, was cheered after her show, which featured male and female models in earthy reds, oranges and blues parading to thumping house music.

The designer used the Indian and West African fairy tales that she grew up with — like The Prince Who Wanted the Moon, The Magic Fiddle and How the Leopard Got His Spots — in her designs for the season, she told British Vogue.

“I was thinking about how stories have affected my life — why do we like the stories we like, and how do they get passed on,” she said.

Ahluwalia said the corset-like detailing in the knitwear of her designs was inspired by Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, which she watched while conducting research for her collection.

The designer, who launched her brand Ahluwalia in 2018, works with limited quantities of fabrics, often upcycling and using patchwork techniques to limit waste.

LFW comes at a tumultuous time for Britain’s fashion industry, amid post-Brexit trade barriers and the country’s cost-of-living crisis.

The difficult economic situation has even prompted some nascent designers to question the viability of investing in British fashion events.

Rising star Dilara Findikoglu made headlines last September after she cancelled her show days before the event for financial reasons.

The industry, which employs close to 900,000 people in the UK and contributes $26 billion to the British economy, is facing “incredibly challenging times,” LFW’s director Caroline Rush told AFP.

What to Expect at Britain’s BAFTA Film Awards on Sunday

LONDON — Prepare for Poppenheimer.

Poor Things and Oppenheimer are the leading contenders for the British Academy Film Awards, which will be handed out Sunday in front of an audience of filmmakers, movie stars and the heir to the British throne.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ gothic fantasia is up for 11 trophies, while Christopher Nolan’s atom-bomb epic has 13 nominations for the British prizes, known as BAFTAs. That’s the same number Oppenheimer has for the Oscars, where it is also the frontrunner.

The ceremony at London’s Royal Festival Hall will be a glitzy, British-accented appetizer for Hollywood’s Academy Awards, closely watched for hints about who might win at the Oscars on March 10.

Nominees including Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Rosamund Pike, Ryan Gosling and Ayo Edebiri are expected on the red carpet beside the River Thames, along with presenters such as Andrew Scott, Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.

Guest of honor will be Prince William, in his role as president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He’ll be without his wife, Kate, who is recovering after abdominal surgery last month.

The show will be hosted, with a dash of self-deprecating humor, by Doctor Who star David Tennant.

“People keep telling me I should be terribly nervous,” Tennant said about the notoriously pitfall-plagued role of awards show host. “But it’s not like I’m up for the award. I just get to hand them out.”

Historical epic Killers of the Flower Moon and Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest have nine nominations each for the prizes, officially called the EE BAFTA Film Awards.

French courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall, boarding school comedy The Holdovers and Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro each have seven, while grief-flecked love story All of Us Strangers is nominated in six categories and class-war dramedy Saltburn in five.

Barbie, one half of 2023’s Barbenheimer box office juggernaut, also has five nominations, but missed out on nods for best picture and best director. Many see the omission of Barbie director Greta Gerwig — for both BAFTAs and Oscars — as a major snub.

Britain’s film academy introduced changes to increase the awards’ diversity in 2020, when no women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white. But there is only one woman among the six best-director nominees: Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall. Emerald Fennell for Saltburn and Celine Song for Past Lives also failed to make the list.

The best film race pits Oppenheimer against Poor Things, Killers of the Flower Moon, Anatomy of a Fall and The Holdovers.

Poor Things is also on the 10-strong list for the separate category of best British film, an eclectic slate that includes class-war dramedy Saltburn, imperial epic Napoleon, south London romcom Rye Lane and chocolatier origin story Wonka, among others.

A woman of color could take the best actress BAFTA for the first time, with Fantasia Barrino for The Color Purple and Vivian Oparah for Rye Lane nominated alongside Sandra Hüller for Anatomy of a Fall, Mulligan for Maestro, Margot Robbie for Barbie and Emma Stone for Poor Things.

No British performers are nominated in the best-actor category, but Ireland is represented by Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer and Barry Keoghan for Saltburn. They’re up against Cooper for Maestro, Colman Domingo for Rustin, Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers and Teo Yoo for Past Lives.

Harrowing Ukraine war documentary 20 Days in Mariupol, produced by The Associated Press and PBS Frontline, is nominated for best documentary and best film not in the English language.

The ceremony is set to include musical performances by Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the latter singing her 2001 hit Murder on the Dancefloor, which shot back up the charts after featuring in Saltburn.

Samantha Morton will receive the academy’s highest honor, the BAFTA Fellowship, and film curator June Givanni, founder of the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive, will be honored for outstanding British contribution to cinema.

Sunday’s ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One in the U.K. from 1900GMT, and on streaming service BritBox in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Pope Urges Catholics to Swap Social Media for Reflection as Lent Begins

ROME — Pope Francis urged Catholics to forgo worldly trappings and focus on essentials as he opened the season of Lent with a traditional Ash Wednesday Mass on one of Rome’s historic seven hills.

He criticized people’s tendency to lay bare their lives on social media, deploring “a world in which everything, including our emotions and deepest feelings, has to become ‘social.'”

Instead, the faithful should enter their “inner chamber” to find time for quiet reflection and prayer, the 87-year-old pontiff said in a homily.

Lent is a 40-day period of penance that leads to Easter, the most important Christian festival, which celebrates the day on which Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

It represents the 40 days Jesus is said in the Bible to have spent fasting in the desert. During the season, Catholics are asked to fast, remember the needy and reflect on mortality.

“Life is not a play: Lent invites us to come down from the stage and return to the heart, to the reality of who we are,” Francis said.

“Let us not be afraid to strip ourselves of worldly trappings and return to the heart, to what is essential.”

He spoke at a service held in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill, preceded by prayers in a nearby church and a procession of cardinals and bishops.

Mass goers, including the pope, had ashes sprinkled on their heads in the Ash Wednesday ritual that, for the world’s more than 1.35 billion Catholics, serves as a reminder of mortality.

Oscar Nominees From Films ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Barbie’ Gather for Luncheon

LOS ANGELES — The casts of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” gathered Monday for the annual Academy Award nominees’ luncheon along with other Oscar hopefuls coming together for photos, hugs and congratulations. 

The luncheon is a warm, feel-good, egalitarian affair where little-known first-time nominees in categories like best animated short get to rub shoulders and share tables with acting nominees like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. 

Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, whose snubs for best director and best actress, respectively, for “Barbie” caused a major stir, were both present for the nominations they did get and were all smiles before lunch. 

Gerwig, nominated for adapted screenplay, was surrounded by selfie-seekers as soon as she entered the ballroom. 

Robbie, up for best picture as a “Barbie” producer, beamed nearby as she hugged and chatted with a woman who got one of the best actress spots, Sandra Hüller of “Anatomy of a Fall.” 

The centerpiece of the event in Beverly Hills, California, is a class photo of the entire group of nominees. Nearly all of them usually attend, both as part of the Oscars experience and as part of their unspoken campaigns for votes. 

Before the luncheon began, nominees including Cillian Murphy, a favorite for best actor for “Oppenheimer,” and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, a favorite for best supporting actress for “The Holdovers,” made the rounds of media outlets whose reporters are set up in cabanas around the Beverly Hilton pool. 

Steven Spielberg, nominated for best picture as a producer of “Maestro,” chatted with a small group on the patio. 

Less famous nominees packed into the ballroom and posed for group pictures.

They’ll later be seated for a vegetarian menu of king oyster mushrooms and wild mushroom risotto.

The event is also a chance for the leadership of the Academy, including President Janet Yang to give speeches and address their prominent members in person.

She used last year’s luncheon to address what she called the Academy’s “inadequate” response to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the previous year’s ceremony. 

Yang’s remarks this year had a much lighter tone, and dealt with more banal matters, like the timing of the Oscars ceremony.

“In case any of you have been in a nominations haze, we are starting an hour earlier this year,” she said.

When she saw surprise around the room she said, “Ooh, some people didn’t know! I’m glad I reminded you!”

She drew groans when she added that the Oscars come on the first day of daylight-saving time. 

Mexican Avocado Scarcity Affects Super Bowl Guacamole

MEXICO CITY — As the Super Bowl approaches, there could be problems for guacamole, a favorite game-time food in America: A lack of rain and warmer temperatures has resulted in fewer avocados being shipped from Mexico.

The western state of Michoacan, which supplies almost 90% of the creamy textured fruit for the big game, has suffered a hotter, drier climate that has led to a lack of water in growing areas.

Lakes in the state are literally drying up: Desperate avocado growers send tanker trucks down to suck up the last water, or divert streams, to feed their thirsty orchards, sparking conflicts. The state received about half the rain it normally gets last year, and reservoirs are at about 40% of capacity, with no rain in sight for months.

Meanwhile, some growers are illegally cutting down pine forests that feed the water system to plant more avocados. To top it all off, another American obsession — tequila — is starting to cause problems too.

The whole situation is not good for avocados. Last year, avocado exports from Michoacan for the Super Bowl grew by 20% to 140,000 tons. This year, that number actually declined by 2,000 tons, despite increased planting; meaning fewer of the creamy textured fruit in U.S. produce departments. Alejandro Méndez, the state secretary of the environment, estimates 30% of avocado orchards in Michoacan are now water-stressed.

Something’s got to give, and with consumers demanding more environmentally conscious produce, state officials are finally putting together a sustainable certification program.

The certification program would presumably result in growers improving their water use, enabling them to offer consumers both greener avocados and more of them.

Coming soon to a grocery store near you: fruit with a sticker saying something like “this avocado wasn’t grown on deforested land,” or “this avocado used water responsibly.”

Officials are still working on a catchy slogan for the greener avocados. But given that it’s coming from the same people who brought you years of Super Bowl ads about avocados from Mexico, a catchy slogan is highly likely.

“The idea is that there is going to be a certification sticker with a QR code that you can scan with your telephone, and that link will take you to a page with a satellite photo of the orchard … and the forest associated with the orchard,” said Méndez.

Because they use more water than pine forests, growers will have to contribute to a fund that ensures several acres of forest are preserved for each acre of orchard.

“So with that orchard, you can be assured the dollar you paid for this avocado is going to preserve this piece of forest,” said Méndez, who estimates about 70% of the orchards in place before 2011 were planted on old farmland, not forests. But the remaining 30% give the rest a bad name, he complains.

The decision to act comes not a moment too soon. The Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday that more than 28,000 people have signed an online petition calling on grocery chains to adopt more sustainable avocado-sourcing policies.

“Many people in Mexico have lost their forests and water because of the 304 million pounds [138 kilograms] of avocados we’ll be eating on Super Bowl Sunday,” said Stephanie Feldstein, the center’s director for population and sustainability. “Our obsession with avocados has a horrific hidden cost. It’s time for grocery chains to take responsibility and make sure they’re not buying avocados grown in deforested areas.”

Up to now, there hasn’t been much consumers could do. There are few certified sustainable avocados available year-round on the market, and if you want guacamole, there’s not much else you can use. That’s despite all the news coverage about how avocado growers and packers have to pay protection money to drug cartels.

Julio Santoyo, a front-line anti-logging activist in Villa Madero, Michoacan, says he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the new certification program. Until then, Super Bowl this year — like every year — was “a kick in the pants,” he said.

“The growth in illegal orchards continues unabated,” Santoyo said. “We assume that more than half of the avocados consumed around the Super Bowl are from illegal planting.

“Up to now, the Mexican government has not taken practical steps to certify environmentally sustainable avocado production,” he said.

The crisis is clear in the once heavily forested, lake-dotted state. Lake Cuitzeo, Mexico’s second largest, was once a vast sheet of water reflecting blue skies near the state capital; it is now about 60% dry, exposing kilometers of dry ground and grass.

And poor Michoacan faces new threats from U.S. consumers: Part of the state next to neighboring Jalisco is certified to grow the blue Weber agave, the only plant from which true tequila can be distilled.

While agave likes drier, hotter, poorer soils than avocados, growers are still cutting down native scrub and low, thorny woods to plant the spikey-leafed seedlings, whose barrel-like centers will later be cooked down and fermented.

It’s a relatively new problem, fed by rising demand for tequila.

“In the last two years, the price for a kilo of agave went up a lot, it went up to almost 35 or 40 pesos [about $2] per kilo,” Méndez said.

“We have 50 million agave plants,” he said. “It’s grown a lot, and we have started to see deforestation as well in that area.”

First Female Argentine Saint Brings Together Pope Francis and Milei

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday will elevate to sainthood the first female saint from his native Argentina, an event that will be attended at the Vatican by his former strong critic, Argentine President Javier Milei.

Milei, a maverick right-wing libertarian, in the past called Francis an “imbecile,” a “son of a bitch preaching communism” and the devil’s man on Earth — but has softened his tone since taking office in December.

The pope, for his part, has said he did not pay too much attention to the insults, telling Mexican broadcaster N+ that what matters is what politicians do in office, rather than on the campaign trail.

Francis is set to lead a canonization Mass for Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, better known as “Mama Antula,” an 18th century woman who renounced her family’s riches to focus on charity and Jesuit spiritual exercises.

The ceremony comes as Argentina is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation at more than 200%. Francis has said he hopes to be able make his first trip back to his homeland since being pope in 2013 in the second half of this year.

The Argentine leader, who has said he may convert to Judaism, will attend the service in St. Peter’s Basilica with his entourage, and is set to have a private audience with Francis on Monday.

Mama Antula was the daughter of a wealthy landholder and slave owner.

She promoted spiritual exercises — a mix of prayers and meditations — walking thousands of kilometers barefoot, involving the rich and poor, despite the Jesuits having at the time been banished from Latin America.

Francis, himself a Jesuit, described her on Friday in a meeting with pilgrims from Argentina as a “gift to the Argentine people and also to the entire Church,” praising her dedication to the poor.

Quoting from his past writings, the pope condemned the “radical individualism” that permeates today’s society as a “virus,” in words that may jar with Milei’s radical free market instincts.

On Monday, wrapping up a week-long overseas tour that took him to Israel before Italy and the Vatican, Milei is also scheduled to meet Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Taylor Swift to Cross 9 Time Zones for Super Bowl

TOKYO — Will she make it in time?

Taylor Swift’s last song was still ringing in the ears of thousands of fans at the Tokyo Dome on Saturday night when the singer rushed to a private jet at Haneda airport, presumably embarking on an intensely scrutinized journey to see her boyfriend, NFL star Travis Kelce, play in the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

“We’re all going to go on a great adventure,” Swift earlier told the crowd. She was speaking of the music, but it might also describe her prospective race against time, which was to cross nine time zones and the international date line.

With a final bow at the end of her sold-out show, clad in in a blue sequined outfit, the crowd screaming, strobe lights pulsing, confetti falling, Swift disappeared beneath the stage — and her journey to the other side of the world began.

Her expected trip to see Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Sunday, U.S. time, has fired imaginations and speculation for weeks.

“I hope she can return in time. It’s so romantic,” said office worker Hitomi Takahashi, 29, who bought matching Taylor Swift sweatshirts with her friend and was taking photos just outside of the Tokyo Dome.

At Saturday night’s concert, there was plenty of evidence of the unique cultural phenomenon that is the Swift-Kelce relationship, a nexus of professional football and the huge star power of Swift. In addition to people wearing sequined dresses celebrating Swift in the packed Tokyo Dome, there were Travis Kelce jerseys and hats and other gear celebrating the Chiefs. Some in Tokyo spent thousands of dollars to attend the pop superstar’s concerts this week.

“Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone,” Swift sang Saturday.

She won’t find that Sunday in Las Vegas when a sold-out crowd, not to mention millions around the world, will be watching her.

If she makes it, that is.

To call the worldwide scrutiny of Swift’s travels intense is an understatement.

Fans have tracked her jet. The planet-warming carbon emissions of her globe-trotting travels have been criticized. Officials have weighed in on her ability to park her jet in Las Vegas airports.

Even Japanese diplomats have gotten into the act. The Japanese Embassy in Washington posted on social media that she could make the Super Bowl in time, including in their statement three Swift song titles — “Speak Now,” “Fearless” and “Red.”

“If she departs Tokyo in the evening after her concert, she should comfortably arrive in Las Vegas before the Super Bowl begins,” it said.

Takahashi, the fan at the Tokyo Dome, was aware of the criticism Swift has faced about her private jets but said the singer was being singled out unfairly.

“Many other people are flying on business, and she is here for her work. She faces a bashing because she is famous and stands out,” Takahashi said.

Swift has been crisscrossing the globe this week already.

Before coming to Asia, she attended the Grammys in Los Angeles, winning her 14th Grammy and a record-breaking fourth Album of the Year award for “Midnights.” The show was watched by nearly 17 million people. She also made a surprise announcement that her next album is ready to drop in April.

Then came the four concerts in Tokyo, and now apparently a rushed trip to try to make it to Las Vegas to watch Kelce, the tight end for the Chiefs, play in the Super Bowl. She has followed Kelce for much of the Chiefs’ season.

If it all goes as planned, she’s then expected to fly to Australia later this week to continue her tour.

“This week is truly the best kind of chaos,” Swift posted Wednesday on Instagram.