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Festival support a very mixed bag

The eighth Tokyo Intl. Film Festival is, as always, financially and logistically supported by the local Japanese film industry – but just how much confidence do many of these industry insiders actually have in the festival?

The answer, unfortunately for organizers, is not much, though those who distribute foreign films in Japan seem to like the festival just fine.

As members of the Japanese industry are all too aware, the market that was attached to the festival for the past three years was never strong, and never in the big league of markets. Yet ironically, with the market a thing of the past, many of these same execs now feel the festival has even less substance.

In the past, a party given by Toho-Towa, a major Japanese importer of foreign films and child company of major studio Toho, has been noted for being a classy, pricey show of the company’s support of the festival. This year, the company won’t even hold a party.

Those that seem to appreciate the festival the most are the importers and exhibitors of foreign films and foreign production companies.

Despite the recession, Japan remains one of the most lucrative overseas markets for Hollywood fare, as well as for some of the internationally acclaimed European and Chinese arthouse films. With the highest concentration of foreign glamour, fame and talent likely to be seen in Japan at any time, the festival provides these films with excellent publicity. During the festival, TV and print media inundate Japanese showbiz watchers with glimpses of the newest films ready for release.

This year, as in the past, many of the invitational films screened at the festival are slated for fall or Christmas releases. Japanese publicity campaigns are often given a huge jump-start by a showing at the fest, especially for opening and closing films. Examples of this in the past were “Speed” and “Cliffhanger,” both of which were huge hits in Japan, helped by excellent receptions at the festival.

This year’s opening film is Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” which will be distributed in Japan by 20th Century Fox, while the closing film is Yasuo Furuhata’s “Kura,” produced and distributed by Toei. Few, if any, of the invitational films are world premieres, but virtually all are first-time public screenings in Japan. Other blockbusters in the special invitation section include “Crimson Tide” (distributed by Buena Vista Intl.), “Bad Boys” (Columbia/TriStar Intl.), “Congo” (UIP), “Colonel Chabert” (starring Gerard Depardieu and distributed by Herald Ace), “Smoke” (Nippon Herald Films), “Immortal Beloved” (Gaga Communications) and “Four Rooms” (Shochiku-Fuji).

Another major studio exec laments that “Tokyo is definitely not Cannes, and I don’t think it will be. The competitions are very good, but otherwise it seems more commercial and not nearly as glamorous as Cannes.”

For now, it seems the big winners are the distributors and, to a certain extent, the public. Local attendance for the festival has been strong, with admissions numbering about 130,000 to 150,000 a year. Not as concerned with the implications of commercialization as industry insiders are, the people come to see movie premieres and stars – at about $10 per ticket, all at half the price of a regular movie ticket.

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