Bazaar boosts Japan's content profile

The Japanese biz releases more pics annually — 407 last year — than any other in East Asia. It also holds its own against Hollywood imports — the market share for Japanese pics was 47.4% in 2007.

Revenues from abroad, however, have not kept pace with success at home. Even major Japanese pics, including the megahits of anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki, usually earn only a tiny fraction of their domestic box office globally.

Other Japanese content, notably toons, comics and games, has fared better abroad, but industrywide coordination to boost content sales has been lacking.

“We have to make more progress on that front,” says Tom Yoda, the new chairman of the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival, which unspools Oct. 18-26.

Yoda is not alone in thinking so: TIFF, together with the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO) and other groups and companies, joined together last year to launch the Japan Intl. Contents Festival or CoFesta, which might be described as the ultimate Japanese content bazaar.

This year, 15 official events related to games, toons, comics, music, TV shows and pics will unfold under the CoFesta banner from Sept. 30 to Oct. 28, including the Tokyo Game Show, Japan Anime Collaboration Market, Tokyo Asian Music Market, TIFF and the TIFFCOM market.

“We would like to shorten (the schedule) up a bit more — three weeks or so is ideal,” CoFesta director Tomoharu Ishikawa says, “but we can’t go much (tighter) because of logistics — there just aren’t that many big venues in Tokyo.”

There also are CoFesta partner events in other Japanese cities, but the center of the action is in Japan’s biggest metropolis — which also is the home of its biggest content companies.

“We want to make the world better aware of the rich variety of content we have here,” Ishikawa says.

One particular focus of attention for both TIFF and TIFFCOM this year is TV programming, including Japan’s famously wild and inventive gameshow formats, which Ishikawa calls “the hottest (genre) right now among foreign buyers.” Reflecting that interest, 15% more Japanese TV companies (including all five major TV networks) are taking booths at TIFFCOM compared with a year ago.

Serial dramas also are a traditional strength of the Japanese broadcasting biz, with the more popular ones not only developing huge followings among viewers but selling millions of theme-song CDs, enjoying a long afterlife on DVD and serving as fodder for hit pics.

However, overseas sales of Japanese TV dramas amount to only $28.3 million out of $94.4 million in average yearly foreign sales of local TV programming. To boost that figure, a coalition of TV companies and orgs launched the Intl. Drama Festival last year in cooperation with TIFFCOM. This year, the fest, skedded for Oct. 22-24 as part of CoFesta, will feature not only screenings, awards and symposiums, but a Broadcasting Content Market.

“The quality of Japanese TV dramas as entertainment is high,” fest chairman Michisada Hirose said in a statement. “However, in terms of international competitiveness and profitability, there is still a room for improvement in Japanese TV dramas.”

That aim is shared by TIFF and TIFFCOM, which have lagged behind competing events elsewhere in Asia, such as the Pusan Film Festival and Hong Kong Filmart, even though Japan’s contents biz dwarfs its Asian counterparts.

TIFFCOM plans to change that by not only strengthening its focus on TV, but expanding its reach beyond the Asian region to recruit buyers and sellers from Europe and the U.S. As a result, nearly half the 172 registered sellers this year are non-Japanese.

Also, TIFFCOM has been beefing up its Tokyo Project Gathering, which this year will present 32 in-development pics Oct. 21-24. Projects include films to be helmed by outlaw master Seijun Suzuki and Hong Kong auteur Pang Ho-cheung, as well as one produced by Oscar-winning thesp Philip Seymour Hoffman through his Cooper’s Town Prods. shingle — with 101-year-old Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno helming.

As for TIFF itself, Yoda, who was chairman and CEO of music biz powerhouse Avex before moving to a similar post with pic distrib Gaga Communications in 2004, is giving himself three years to boost the fest’s profile not only regionally, but globally.

“My goal is to make (TIFF) one of the four major festivals of the world, along with Cannes, Berlin and Venice,” says Yoda.

Getting there will require, as Yoda notes, “high-quality films,” but he has another, more unusual idea for making TIFF stand out from the pack: Starting this year, the festival is going green. The most obvious symbol of the new focus is the Green Carpet, replacing the traditional red rug, on which stars will make their entrance into Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills shopping and entertainment complex on opening day.

More substantively, TIFF will also debut a new “natural TIFF” and “natural TIFF Masterpieces” sections presenting docus and dramas with eco themes, and an Earth Grand Prix sponsored by Toyota will be awarded to the best green pic in the main program. Yoda will serve as one of the three judges.

“Filmmakers make films and films are created on the Earth — but the Earth is in trouble.” Yoda says in explaining the new orientation. In other words, no Earth equals no people and no pics.

But will becoming the fest equivalent of the Prius help make TIFF major? That’s a stretch, perhaps, but going green could soften TIFF’s rather stiff, corporate image among the global festival cognoscenti — as long as it’s not just a marketing ploy.

As for the foreign buyers and sellers at TIFFCOM and other CoFesta markets, the greenness of an event is not as important as the green it puts in their pockets. Perhaps by this time next year, those same folks will be looking at TIFF’s new carpet with a more appreciative eye.

TIP SHEET

What: Tokyo Intl. Film Festival

When: Oct. 18-26

Where: Roppongi Hills, Bunkamura and other facilities in Tokyo

Web: tiff-jp.net/en

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