New director needs time to revive Tokyo festival

Japanese event to build off strength of foreign releases

TOKYO — Michiyasu Kawauchi isn’t afraid to take on a challenge.

In fact, the new director general of the fest, 65-year-old chairman and CEO of radio conglom Nippon Broadcasting System, is confident he’ll be able to return the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival to its mid-1980s popularity — before the nation’s economic boom went bust, slashing the fest’s budget by more than half and reducing its international appeal.

The lineup for this year’s fest, which runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4, is a reflection of the hard times that have hit the competitive, accredited A festival — one of only 11 in the world. The well-traveled “Shrek” will open the fest, while equally well-screened “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” closes. The only world premiere outside of Japan is Zhang Ming’s competition entry “Weekend Plot” from China.

Kawauchi assumed the post April 1 following the death last year of longtime fest topper and publishing magnate Yasuyoshi Tokuma, and he is facing many challenges. South Korea’s Pusan Intl. Film Festival has supplanted Tokyo as the region’s leading film event, largely because of its project market, the Pusan Promotion Panel, which was inspired by Rotterdam’s Cinemart.

The new Tokyo director isn’t trying to make inroads against Pusan, but rather hopes to build on its success.

“I don’t want to compete with other festivals,” Kawauchi says. “I want to create a network of international film festivals that complement each other.”

Before Tokyo can be part of that circuit, however, Kawauchi realizes there’s quite a bit of work to do to repair the fest’s structural and financial weakness, including assembling a fresh organizing committee.

To gain stronger support from private sponsors, Kawauchi ultimately wants to develop a market within the fest that will interest Japan’s leading-edge hardware producers in the imaging field.

The fest has managed to nab Pitof’s “Vidocq” (France), which wasn’t ready for this year’s Cannes Intl. Film Fest, in its Asian preem. It will screen out of competition. International preems in competition include Buket Alakus’ “Anam” (Germany), Simon Aeby’s “The Rebel” (Switzerland), Leo Kittikron’s “Goal Club” (Thailand) and Hur Jin-Ho’s “One Fine Spring Day” (a Korea-Japan-Hong Kong co-production).

U.S. titles making their Asian premieres in competition include Michael Gondry’s “Human Nature” and Tim Blake Nelson’s “O.” Japanese world preems in competition are Mitsutoshi Tanaka’s “Kewaishi” and Junji Hanado’s “The Lament of a Lamb.”

Other pics in competition (all making their Asian premieres) are Paul Sarossy’s “Mr. In-Between” (U.K), Reza Mir Karimi’s “Under the Moonlight” (Iran), Aktan Abdykalykov’s “The Chimp” (Kirgistan-France-Japan), Gjergi Xhuvani’s “Slogans” (France-Albania) and Stefanie Sycholt’s “Malunde” (South Africa-Germany).

Filmmaker Norman Jewison is skedded to preside over the jury.

“TIFF should become another major media event, not just another film festival,” Kawauchi says, though he asks for patience. “Not much will change in the coming two to three years, but after that, we should be on track to make the Tokyo festival big again.”

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