Tokyo Film Festival is more diverse and collaborative
Ichiyama Shozo returned to the Tokyo International Film Festival this year as the main coach, having led the rival event Tokyo Filmex for the past twenty years.
Last year, COVID forced the two festivals to put aside their rivalry and cooperate in the key fall niche. Although virus and vaccination conditions in Japan have since improved, allowing in-person festival screenings to return, the collaboration has continued.
Ichiyama, however, scoffs at suggestions that his change made TIFF more like Filmex.
âWhen TIFF President Ando approached me earlier this year to invite me to become TIFF’s Program Director, I already thought it was time for Filmex to change, to renew itself. His offer was a good opportunity to reprogram Filmex under a new director.
âKamiya Naoki was with me since the beginning of Filmex and knew his purpose perfectly. It tastes very good. And very good relationships with sales agents and producers, âsaid Ichiyama. After making sure that Kamiya would take over, Ichiyama agreed to the transfer from TIFF. âNaoki’s taste and mine are slightly different. Now he is more free to choose what he wants.
During the selection phase, the two events may have danced around each other, trying not to overlap, but it did happen on occasion.
“I tried to close [Kamiyaâs opinions]. Sometimes he would send me an email asking for my opinion. I would usually tell him to go ahead and show the movie, âIchiyama said. âBut there have been times when we have sent out invitations in the same way. A film that we invited for the non-competitive World Focus section and Filmex invited for the competition. We left the choice to the producer.
âAt TIFF, we prefer to show world premieres, so that usually means that if the film was shown in Cannes or Venice, we would show it in World Focus. Filmex does not require premiere status, so they can take movies from [Cannesâ] Directors’ Fortnight or Un Certain Regard or Venice.
While Ichiyama says both festivals did strong lineups, he says it was by chance that TIFF ended up with a more Asian and Filmex-like selection than in previous years.
“I started by thinking about [balancing out] geographies. But once we started watching we realized that there were so many great Asian films that hadn’t been shown at European festivals.
âVenice in particular doesn’t show so many Asian films these days. Instead, they show stronger movies from Hollywood or Netflix. And, Toronto has reduced the number of films it shows. Thus, many good Asian films could not be presented in preview. We ended up with a lot of Asian films in competition, ten out of fifteen, and no French or Scandinavian films, âsaid Ichiayma. Fans of European films could find a lot of them in other sections.
Global trends have created another dilemma. As many fall festivals and awards shows try to position themselves as part of the preparations for Oscar awards season, there is a resurgence of interest in Asian TV content sparked by, among other things, “Squid Game. “.
Tokyo responded by establishing the TIFF series as a platform for television content. This year, he only finds room for two: âFragrance of the First Flowerâ, an LGBT series from Taiwan, and two episodes of âFolkloreâ, a horror omnibus directed by Eric Khoo from Singapore. But Ichiyama is confident that the section will be expanded in future editions. âI hope it becomes a platform for discovering Asian series, because it can only be a good thing for the festival,â Ichiyama said.
Nor does he see streaming as an immediate threat to the role of film festivals, despite their enormous reach. Amazon Prime Video has 12 million subscribers in Japan, far more than the number of tickets TIFF can sell.
âAmazon is one of the big sponsors of the festival this year. They haven’t submitted any films to us, but we are working together on the short film pitching program. We also know that many Japanese directors shoot films for Amazon. Maybe we can show some next year, âIchiyama said. “A good movie is a good movie, even if it’s a series.”
The festival also screened two Netflix Venice films: âThe Power of the Dogâ and âThe Hand of Godâ in non-competitive sections.
Earlier this year, TIFF became the first major Asian festival to sign the collective 50/50 pledge on gender equality. Achieving this remains a work in progress.
âWe started with the jury members and the selection committee members and are pretty much equal,â Ichiyama said. Indeed, the jury of the competition is predominantly female.
âI don’t think we should be thinking about genre when selecting films. But I’m sure we can make a really good selection with a lot of women. We have four [of 15] in competition, âIchiyama said. But none of them are Japanese.
Instead, the Asian Future has one movie of a Japanese woman, and the new Nippon Cinema Now section has two more. Aside from gender parity, independent sections can now be better balanced.
âWe found it strange that strong young Japanese filmmakers weren’t competing in the Asian Future section. So we removed the Japanese Cinema Splash section and put some Japanese movies in Asian Future, âIchiyama said.
He says TIFF still needs a panorama of new Japanese film production, hence the creation of the Nippon Cinema Now section. But he also suggests that other festivals, such as Pia and Skip City, which have sections competing for new independent films, have a role to play.
âWe will come back and discuss after the festival is over if we find that young Japanese filmmakers complain that they don’t have enough chances to compete,â Ichiyama said.