Since its start in 1985, the Tokyo International Film Festival has undergone several make-overs, as its organizers struggled to define its mission. Was it the Asian version of Cannes, Berlin and Venice? A showcase for the titles distributed by its Japanese corporate backers? A launching pad for the careers of young filmmakers, Asian and otherwise? All of the above?
Under the direction of Chairman Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, TIFF has emerged, in its last two editions, from its ongoing identity crisis with a new purpose and focus. It has shifted many of its screenings and events to Roppongi Hills -- the maze-like shopping and entertainment destination for millions of Japanese trendies -- giving it an instant coolness boost. TIFF has also launched several new sections, including Japanese Eyes for Japanese indies films, as well as new markets, including the Tokyo International Film & Contents Market for sellers of Japanese and other Asian films and TV programs.
The 18th edition of the festival, to be held this October, promises even more changes and, Kadokawa hopes, a more celebratory spirit. "We want to emphasis the 'festival' in film festival," he said. "We want to make it an enjoyable experience." In other words, create an environment in which not only fans can enjoy films, but actors, directors, producers, agents and other film folk "can interact in a relaxed manner," he explains -- and do deals. "Film festivals can serve as places where business partnerships can develop and grow."
For Kadokawa, TIFF's four key sections are the Special Screenings, which shows films soon be released in Japan, Winds of Asia, which presents the best of new Asian cinema, the aforementioned Japanese Eyes and the competition. "A big key to the success of the festival is the strength of the competition," says Kadokawa. "The FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Association), of which we are a member, has relaxed its regulations regarding film festival competitions -- this has made it easier for us to improve our selection." Adds Kadokawa: "We're the last major festival of the year -- we want our competition to be the best of the best."
The ultimate aim is make the Tokyo Grand Prix "something people talk about around the world," Kadokawa said. "I was very happy to hear the competition jury last year say there were many strong films in the section, including the Grand Prix winner, Whiskey, but we can still do more to raise the value of the prize," he commented.
Kadokawa and his TIFF team also plan to launch a new film market. Called Tokyo Asia-Pacific Entertainment Market, it will offer films from all over the Asia Pacific region, in cooperation with the Asia-Pacific Film Festival. "Interest in Asian films is growing in Europe and the United States," Kadokawa says. "We hope to attract more buyers from that part of the world."
As part of his campaign to raise TIFF's profile, Kadokawa has made the festival rounds, including Berlin, Cannes and Hong Kong. "I wanted to see how they operate," he explains. One lesson he has learned from travels: "We at TIFF have to get out of Japan and make our presence known," he says. "If we don't -- if we become inward-looking again -- the world will pass us by." He has a point: competition among Asian film festival is intensifying and Tokyo's pre-eminence is no longer a given. At the same time, Kadokawa wants TIFF to cooperate more closely with its Asian counterparts. "We need to form an alliance, for out own mutual benefit," he says.
He is encouraged by the growing presence of political and business leaders at TIFF. Last year Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, and the chairman of the Japan Business Federation, Hiroshi Okuda, spoke at the TIFF opening ceremony -- both firsts. "It a sign that the political and business worlds are taking films more seriously," he notes.
To raise the festival's profile even further, he believes, TIFF should take the lead in presenting the best Japanese films, "from commercial to art house" and everything in between. It should also highlight the new filmmakers that are the industry's future. "It's hard for them to get their films shown in Japan," he says, "We can help."
Ultimately, he sees the TIFF as a window, not only on the world's films for the local audience, but on Japanese films for the world. "Japan is making some interesting films now," he says. "I think we should make people outside Japan aware of them."