Fest Traveler: Tokyo Intl. Film Festival

Now in its 24th edition, the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival has long aspired to be in the same class as Cannes, Venice and Berlin. It says so right in its publicity materials.

Japan, as TIFF chairman Tom Yoda mentioned at the pre-fest presser in September, is the world’s second largest film market after the U.S., with a big, thriving film industry whose products win major international plaudits. It deserves to play in the big leagues.

But TIFF also faces stiff competition from the rival Busan fest, which unspools right before TIFF and siphons off many hot Asian pics, including those from Japan.

“We are the last major festival of the year,” Yoda lamented to assembled journos. “It makes things difficult for us.”

Under Yoda, now in his fourth year as fest chairman, TIFF has revamped its main sections (competition, Special Screenings, Japanese Eyes and Winds of Asia), while adopting a new “green” theme, beginning with the TIFF Green Carpet (made of recycled materials) and continuing with its Natural TIFF section of eco-themed pics.

On March 11, however, nature showed its dark side: A 9.0 earthquake, a massive tsunami and reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant devastated the northern Tohoku region — and made organizers seriously consider cancelling TIFF. But they decided to press on and, as Yoda put it, “use the power of films” to aid the victims.

During the fest, set to unspool Oct. 22-30, TIFF will sponsor the Arigato Project — a multipronged disaster-relief initiative that includes funding raising and fest screenings on Oct. 25 in Sendai, Tohoku’s biggest city. The fest will also show post-disaster pics shot in Tohoku in its Natural TIFF section and elsewhere.

“In general, though, the disaster has not influenced our programming,” Yoda says. “Just as always, we have tried to find the best films from around the world.”

But TIFF, as well as the Japanese biz as a whole, is also wrestling with the ongoing drift of young auds away from all but big event pics to other, more personal entertainment platforms, from game consoles to smartphones.

“We have to better communicate Japan’s rich film culture to young people,” says Yoda. “Otherwise it will die away.”

TIFF is keeping the flame burning not only by promoting its lineup on Facebook and other social media, but also by beefing up its programming with a section dedicated to the career of Kyoko Kagawa, a still-active thesp beloved by Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and other Golden Age giants.

Also, though Japan makes toons, games, pics and other contents with worldwide appeal, the local biz, as Yoda noted, “is not always aggressive in marketing them.” Now in its eighth edition, the three-day Tiffcom market (Oct. 24-26) is dedicated to promoting Japanese content to buyers from Asia and elsewhere, with nearly 200 sellers taking booths.

“Japanese TV dramas in particular should be better-known abroad,” says Yoda, pointing to the success of Korean dramas in penetrating overseas markets, especially Japan. This year, Tiffcom will sponsor a special corner where TV drama sellers can present their wares.

“Despite the disasters, we are confident this year’s festival will be a success,” concludes Yoda. “We invite everyone to come to Tokyo and see what we have to offer.”

HIGHLIGHTS

“The Three Musketeers”
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Actors: Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich
Logline: This 3-D swashbuckler is an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel, and is the fest opener.

“Detachment”
Director: Tony Kaye
Actors: Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu
Logline: A substitute teacher finds an improbable connection with a classroom of disaffected youths.

TIFFCOM (Oct 24-26)
The marketplace integrates seminars, screenings, and roughly 200 exhibitors offering pic, TV, toon, media and publishing content.

“1911”
Director: Jackie Chan
Actors: Jackie Chan, Jaycee Chan, Li Bingbing
Logline: This $30 million historical epic is a special fest opener and tribute to the 100 years since the Xinhai Revolution.

“The Woodsman and the Rain”
Director: Shuichi Okita
Actors: Koji Yakusho, Shun Oguri
Logline: A novice helmer ventures into the mountains and enlists the locals to assist in his next pic.

Headshot
Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Actors: Nopachai Jayanama, Celine Horwang
Logline: A hitman gets shot in the head and, upon recovery, discovers that his world has been flipped upside down in more ways than one.

“Tokyo Drifter”
Director: Tetsuaki Matsue

Actor: Kenta Maeno
Logline: A musician strums his guitar and sings as he wanders through a rainy night in Tokyo.

“Pina”
Director: Wim Wenders
Logline: Renowned choreographer Pina Bausch is featured in this documentary on contemporary dancing.

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