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Winds of Asia draws onlookers, but TIFF in decline

TOKYO — “Why bother to go to the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival?,” a Korean producer was asked by his friends when he told them about his travel plans. “It’s better to visit the much smaller but well-managed competitor Tokyo Filmex. At least they show important films from Asia.”

In the end, the Korean visitor came to Tokyo and reconfirmed what everybody has known for years: The Tokyo fest (Nov. 1-9) continues to decline in status and importance, and no major breakthrough seems in sight.

“But their Winds of Asia sidebar is interesting,” says the producer.

At the moment, the sidebar is the fest’s best chance to recapture some momentum.

While the official competition and the special screenings show either pics that have had several festival outings before reaching Tokyo or that have Japanese distribution in place and been held back for a festival screening (such as the long-delayed “Finding Nemo” as closing film), the Winds Of Asia section succeeds on two fronts: The films are mostly by young talent from Asian countries, and this year they are not the usual festival fare already shown at other events.

“I know that it’s easier to go to other festivals and choose films there,” says Winds of Asia programmer Sozo Teruoka, a film critic specializing in Asian films, “I wanted to have fresh films, something new.”

Teruoka succeeded for the most part this time around. He spent long weeks in China this summer viewing potential contenders. The result: a 13-feature program offering five pics from China, among them Zhang Yuan’ s new and more commercial outing “I Love You” as well as two from Taiwan, one of them by arthouse darling Tsai Ming-liang.

The Thai film “The Adventures of Iron Pussy” has its world premiere at the fest. Korean smash “Memories of Murder” as well as one entry each from India, Singapore and the Philippines round out the program. A ¥1 million ($91,750) Asian Film Award goes to the entry with most nods from a local jury.

Besides having to struggle with the archaic structures of the Tokyo fest, where committees still hold more power than programming directors, Teruoka must keep an eye on two other strong contenders. One is the Pusan Intl. Film Festival in Korea, held Oct. 2-10, which remains the mecca of Asian filmmakers and has long eclipsed all other Asian festivals; and the other is up-and-coming Tokyo Filmex unspooling for the fourth time on the heels of TIFF Nov. 22-30.

Both Pusan and Filmex have established themselves as major showcases for new Asian productions, the latter at least local for Japan. A third festival window on Asian film trends could have trouble surviving.

And a Tokyo film producer thinks fest brass aren’t particularly interested in new Asian talent: “They want Hollywood, then major Japanese films by big local studios, and not so much other Asian films.”

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