Islamic films intrigue programmer Kenji Ishizaka

Since its start in 2002, the Winds of Asia section of the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival has had a rep as an innovative showcase for pics from East and Southeast Asia, particularly ones by younger helmers.

Taking over from pioneer WoA programmer Sozo Teruoka in July, veteran Asian film scholar Kenji Ishizaka has not discarded his predecessor’s vision but rather expanded it.

“A lot of festivals are introducing films from East Asia,” Ishizaka says. “I want the section to also include Central Asia and the Middle East, where many exciting films are being made now.”

As film coordinator at the Japan Foundation’s Asia Center for more than a decade, Ishizaka programmed the groundbreaking Asia Cinema Series and Arab Film Festival for Tokyo auds while building a wide network of contacts in the Middle East and Central Asia. His selections this year include pics from Iran and Egypt — countries with well-established industries that have been thoroughly scouted by Western fests — as well as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the latter better known as the home for “Borat” than for local pics.

“Japanese audiences don’t know much about Islamic countries, period,” Ishizaka notes. “So one of my aims, which I also had at the Japan Foundation, is to give them a better understanding of how people in those countries live, their different customs and so on. But the films themselves are interesting.”

Ishizaka, however, is not neglecting East and Southeast Asia.

“Malaysia is having something of a New Wave, with an upsurge of young directors making DV films,” he says. “Filmmakers from the Chinese and Indian minorities are especially active.”

Ishizaka also is planning a retro tribute to deceased Taiwanese helmer Edward Yang and a new Discover Asian Cinema section that will screen older Asian pics deserving more attention. One such treasure that will unspool this year is “Goryeo jang,” a 1963 pic by Korean helmer Kim Ki-young about a nobleman who must abandon his elderly mother to die in the mountains, in accordance with local custom.

“Kim Ki-young is often called the ‘Korean Bunuel,’ but this film is a departure for him,” Ishizaka says. “It’s wonderful that we are able to screen it.”

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