A high-stakes game of “who’s first” has been playing out in the world of top Asian film festivals.

The industry has been abuzz recently with talk that the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival would shift to a September slot from next year.

That would encroach on Pusan’s ability to secure world preems for the fest. Ditto for the rivalry between PPP and Tokyo Project Gathering.

Launched in 1985, TIFF has long prided itself on being Asia’s premiere fest, but has been eclipsed by PIFF in terms of international interest and programming clout.

A rumored shift to a September or early October date might enable it to poach more of the regional and world bows that now go to PIFF, while stealing the junior fest’s foreign critical and media buzz.

Tokyo has not yet gone on the record to announce its 2008 dates. But sources within and close to the org say that chances of a major change are small.

“We are fundamentally committed to a late October opening,” said a TIFF rep, who asked to remain anonymous. “That is not likely to change for next year.” Another source in UniJapan, which promotes Japanese pics abroad and has close ties to TIFF, said that rumors of a shift to dates before PIFF, which have reportedly spooked Pusan fest organizers, are “just not true, at least for next year.”

But sources did confirm that TIFF chairman Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, who has worked to internationalize and expand the scope of TIFF in his five years as topper, will leave the fest following its upcoming 20th edition, set to unspool in Tokyo from Oct. 20-28. “He had planned to retire after the last festival, but decided to extend for one more year,” the TIFF source said. TIFF has not yet decided on a replacement.

For the moment, TIFF seems content with its current post-PIFF sked, though Kadokawa’s successor may have different plans.