Japan’s festival circuit shrinks

Fest must find new coin to survive

TOKYO — While Japan was late jumping on the film festival bandwagon, it quickly established internationally renowned events including the Yubari Fantastic fest, the Yamagata Documentary fest and the Fukuoka Asian fest.

But now some are dying.

In 1993, Yubari charmed auds and helmers alike: guest Quentin Tarantino was so taken with the event that he named the Japanese schoolgirl assassin in “Kill Bill Vol. 1” Gogo Yubari.

But Yubari execs suspended the fest for a year after its 17th edition wrapped in February and it may not reappear.

Paired with the reorganization of Yamagata and the disappearance of the Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival (an event related to the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival) there is now doubt that smaller fests, particularly those outside major centers, will survive.

Both Yubari and Yamagata rely on public funding in areas with dwindling populations and economic troubles.

Popular on Variety

Yubari is a failing mining town, which is $53 million in debt.

“The festival itself didn’t have any money problems,” said Yubari program topper Toshitoki Shiota. “But since the city had such financial problems the festival suffered.”

The biannual Yamagata receives $854,000 from the city, and despite securing funding for the next two years, local economic woes have forced the fest to reorganize.

“We are now preparing to become an NPO, a citizens’ organization, to ensure Yamagata’s long-term funding,” said festival director Hiraku Miyazawa.

More troubling is the demise of the Tokyo Fantastic Film Festival, Fanta, which seemed in robust health five years ago.

“In 2000 we had $297,500 in sponsorship money and $255,000 in attendance revenue,” former festival director Yoichi Komatsuzawa said. “In fact, the main fest was rather perturbed because our attendance revenue was higher than theirs.”

But since that time Tokyo Fanta has found it harder to attract sponsors, and even fest producer Seiko Ito admits a restart is unlikely.

Still, most believe the current turmoil is a market re-adjustment.

“I think the movement of film festivals is cyclical,” said Morioka. “If a great fest like Yubari closes, another one, such as the Women’s Film Festival in Aichi, will start up and build momentum.”

The 11-year-old Women’s fest is in good financial health, perhaps buoyed by its specific focus and proximity to the major metropolitan center of Nagoya.

Komatsuzawa, who was fest director for Fanta and Yubari, believes a new business-minded approach to fests is needed in Japan, one that he is now implementing in the Okinawan Cinema and Music Festival.

“Three years ago Okinawa asked me to do a feasibility study to find out if a film festival could generate revenue, as opposed to being supported by the local government,” he said.

After his report illustrated that it could be done, the region launched a music and film fest, slated to unspool in June, and put Komatsuzawa at the head.

Komatsuzawa’s aim is a profitable fest bringing in organizers from all over Japan. He is aiming to enlist governmental cooperation, along with outreach to local communities, support of local and international artists, and, crucially, market savvy investors.

So while some regional fests in Japan have hit the skids, this new business-driven model may ensure that it is not the end for film get-togethers.

More Film

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

  • Justin Simien Variety Creative Impact Honoree

    Variety's Creative Impact Honoree Justin Simien Returns to Sundance With 'Bad Hair'

    Justin Simien understands the value of a compelling story. Before he broke out with his award-winning indie satire “Dear White People” in 2014, the 36-year-old American filmmaker worked in publicity, doing gigs at studios like Paramount and Focus Features. It was this experience, working on massively successful hits such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Paranormal Activity,” [...]

  • A thermal sensor operated by the

    How the Wuhan Coronavirus Infected the Chinese Film Industry

    Just days ago, no one would have predicted that China’s most lucrative film-going season was about to be derailed by the escalating epidemic of a novel coronavirus that is now rapidly spreading through the country and beyond. Variety takes a look at how the box office in the world’s second largest film market has been [...]

  • Jayme Lawson bows Farewell Amor

    Meet Jayme Lawson: The 'Batman' Breakout Hits Sundance With 'Farewell Amor'

    Right before New Year’s Day, Jayme Lawson sat down to make a list. She wanted to outline all of the big changes that had transpired over the past twelve months. It was an impressive array of accomplishments. In May, Lawson graduated from Julliard. A month later, she was cast in her first indie movie, “Farewell [...]

  • 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Box Office: Movie

    Box Office: 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Racing Toward $40 Million Opening

    “Sonic the Hedgehog” is racing toward an opening in the $40 million range over Presidents’ Day weekend, early tracking showed on Thursday. Paramount Pictures decided in May to push “Sonic the Hedgehog” back three months, from Nov. 8 to Valentine’s Day, following fan criticism over the appearance and design of the titular blue character — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content