Tokyo Festival and Japan Foundation Reach Out to Asian Region

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TOKYO — A link up with the Japan Foundation arts and education institute is being pitched as a key plank of the Tokyo International Film Festival’s outreach program to the Asian region.

The festival has struck a multi-year deal with the Japan Foundation’s recently created Asia Center to help it bring in Asian films and film-makers to Tokyo and also to expand Japanese cultural influence in Asia.

The most visible impact at the 2014 edition of the festival is the new ‘Crosscut Asia’ section will showcase the hidden gems of Thai cinema.

“We are creating the occasion to screen and showcase Asian films, one country at a time. This year is Thailand, next year it could be Indonesia or The Philippines,” said Yasushi Shiina, the Tokyo festival’s director. “The ultimate aim is to show more Japanese films in those countries too. Perhaps in six months time we can take some of TIFF’s films to Thailand. And not just rolls of film, but also talent and sales companies too.”

The task is a tough one, given Japan’s past political and military clashes in Asia, and the suspicions that linger. But soft power may be a smart response. Japan’s goods and services are widely regarded as innovative and of high quality.

For the Japanese government and the country’s cultural industry, which have together launched the ‘Cool Japan’ promotional campaign, it is an urgent task. The economic might of a growing China has turned many heads, while the success of Korean music and TV shows has left many in the Japanese entertainment sector reeling.

The Tokyo festival has deliberately sought to put Japanese pop culture on a pedestal. Boy band Arashi has been made a festival ambassador, while other music acts have been added.

And in an unprecedented move five of the country’s top chefs, including the iconic Noboyuki Matsuhisa, have been brought together to present a rare tasting menu. That could leave a sweet taste in the mouths of Japan’s neighbors.

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