New fest topper faces challenges

Kadokawa looking to Berlin as inspiration

TOKYO — Musical chairs seems to be a favorite pastime at the executive level of Japan’s major film fest, the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival (TIFF). Less than two years after Michiyasu Kawauchi, chairman of Nippon Broadcasting System, took over the reigns and promised many invigorating changes, he quit. Once again TIFF has named a new director with hopes to finally stop the declining importance and status of the event.

This time it is publishing magnate and film producer Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, 60. Kadokawa has dual roles as president-CEO of Kadokawa Holdings and chairman-CEO of Kadokawa Shoten Publishing.

His credentials couldn’t be better, especially given the fact that Kadokawa Holdings includes major film production and distribution outfits Asmik-Ace Entertainment and Daiei, the latter acquired less than a year ago from financially strapped Tokuma Shoten Publishing, including the 1,600 title-strong Daei film library.

“I do not intend to overstay, but at least long enough to give the TIFF a new face,” Kadokawa explains. “Otherwise, TIFF will fall even further.”

Kadokawa is refining his plans for the event (the 16th TIFF is slated for Nov. 1-9). Kadokawa would like TIFF to become a staging point for major independent films from around the world, “a bit like the Berlin Festival does.””Japan is the second-largest film market,” he notes. “TIFF can also be used to initiate international campaigns for new films.”

This makes sense, given the fact that an emphasis on purely Asian films could lead to a conflict with the well-established Pusan Intl. Film Festival in Korea and the much smaller but expanding Tokyo FilmEx. Still, Japanese films will remain an important part of TIFF.

Instead of trying to build up another general film market (as TIFF did unsuccessfully in the early ’90s), the possibility of a specialized international market for animated features is under consideration. It would tend to dovetail with Japan’s prominence in animation and with Kadokawa Holdings’ experience as a major manga publisher and film producer.

But the best-laid plans for TIFF hinge on one simple fact: funding. The lackluster record of TIFF during recent years combined with Japan’s stagnating economy, resulting in severe funding cuts by sponsors and government entities.

“Kadokawa has been asked to take over the TIFF because he has the authority and the connections needed to organize funding,” opines a film producer in Tokyo.

Nobody expects miracles. But Kadokawa, who — like all directors for TIFF fulfills his assignment without any pay — recognizes one crucial weak spot of the festival’s organization: the multilayered bureaucracy with corresponding committees favoring Japanese consensus politics at the expense of energy, speed and quick decisions, a malaise also at the heart of Japan’s long general decline.

“I hope I can instigate necessary changes,” Kadokawa says. “It would be good if we have a full-time director in three years who could take over.” And who wouldn’t quit after a year or so.

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