Quality of Japanese films on the rise, says Tokyo Film Festival program director
The bold claim from the organizers of the Tokyo International Film Festival is that this year’s all-in-person edition is not only bigger than before, but also better.
This applies at the organizational level as the festival adds more screens and foreign participants after the COVID interruption. This also applies to the quality of the film, explains programming director Ichiyama Shozo. Variety.
Please summarize the highlights of your selection this year.
This year we had more films submitted than last year, and I was confident we could get a stronger lineup, which included seven world premieres and one international premiere. A happy surprise is Bui Thac Chuyen’s “Glorious Ashes”, which is the first Vietnamese film in our main competition in the history of the Tokyo International Film Festival.
We have three Japanese films in our main competition, up from two last year. The quality of submitted Japanese films is much higher than last year.
What was the thought behind choosing “Fragments of the Last Will” as this year’s opening film?
The main reason I chose “Fragments of the Last Will” is that it’s directed by Zeze Takahisa, who I think is one of the most important Japanese filmmakers. Zeze started his career as an independent filmmaker, then started working with major studios. But he continues to make independent films outside the studios, such as his masterpiece “Heaven’s Story”, which won the FIPRESCI prize in Berlin in 2011. “Fragments of the Last Will” is a commercial film, produced by a major television network, but it contains a strong anti-war message and showcases Zeze’s cinematic style.
You have 10 Asian world premieres in Asian Future. How was the relationship between this section and Filmex established?
The programmer, Kenji Ishizaka, head of Asian Future, gives priority to films that have not screened at any other film festival. The result is that all Asian Future films are world premieres. Meanwhile, Tokyo Filmex does not require premiere status. Its competition section favors young filmmakers, including those whose films have screened elsewhere, such as Cannes, Locarno and Venice. The upshot is that if you’re in Tokyo at the end of October, you can watch most of the best Asian films from young filmmakers made that year.
TIFF succeeded in scheduling a mainland Chinese film in Asian Future. It is increasingly rare. What is your understanding of the problem?
I’m disappointed that I couldn’t find a Chinese film for the main competition this year. It is very strange that mainland Chinese submissions are very few this year. I don’t know the reason. People in China say that many films are waiting for government permission to show the films in international film festivals, but the [regulatory] committee is not functioning properly. “The Cord of Life”, which was shot in Inner Mongolia, is the only Chinese film [we have] This year. It was submitted early and already had screening permission when we sent out the invite. I hope this strange situation will change and we can have more Chinese movies next year.
TIFF has a large contingent of Japanese films. What current trends, strengths and weaknesses of comics in Japanese cinema do you discern based on what was submitted to the festival for consideration?
Last year, I had a problem finding Japanese films that I would like to present at the Tokyo festival. And we have not programmed any Japanese films in the Gala Selection in 2021. This year, the situation has changed radically, and we have received many more good Japanese films. I was able to select five Japanese films in the Gala Selection, and three in the main competition.
Some studios and production companies were reluctant to release their films during the pandemic, but this year they are very active in producing and releasing films. Three Japanese films in competition show that there are promising young independent filmmakers who can compete in major competitive film festivals in the near future. Even in Nippon Cinema Now, the non-competitive sidebar for new Japanese films, I was able to select several strong Japanese films from new filmmakers, which might have deserved some competition. An example is “Lightening Over Beyond,” a black-and-white epic, directed by Hanno Yoshihiro, who is best known as a music composer for films by Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhang-ke. The film is completely independent, made outside of any studio or television broadcaster, but the scale is much larger than most Japanese independent films. It’s very encouraging that such a courageous film is made independently of the Japanese production system.
Why revive the Kurosawa Prize now?
It was Hiroyasu Ando, the president of the festival, who decided to revive the Kurosawa Award. He thinks the festival should have these kinds of honorary awards given to filmmakers who have contributed to film culture. I also think it’s great that the festival has an award named after a top filmmaker, because that can encourage the winners. And I know that the selection committee prefers to give these awards to filmmakers who are still in business, rather than those who are in the last stage of their career.
Cannes resists Netflix. Venice embraces him. How does streaming affect TIFF selection?
The reason Cannes doesn’t show Netflix movies is simply because of the cinema law in France, which sets a very long waiting period after a movie can go from theatrical release to streaming. There is no such law in Italy or Japan, and we are not limited to showing films produced by streaming platforms. For us, to select a film, the most important thing is whether it has a cinematic style or not. It doesn’t matter if the movie is produced by a movie studio or not. We will select films as long as they have not already been released on a streaming platform before the start of the festival.
In addition to feature films, last year I created a new “TIFF Series” section, which presents series produced by television channels or streaming platforms. This selected series made by filmmakers. I think this section should be expanded in the future, as many talented filmmakers are currently working on such series.