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Tokyo Market is Finding New Strengths, Says Yasushi Shiina

Clouds on the global economic horizon and disruption to the scheduling of the event, have done little to dampen the interest of foreign visitors to TIFFCOM, Japan’s biggest film and TV market. Especially those from China, says market head, Yasushi Shiina.

The market is again running at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex in the Tokyo sub-center of Ikebukuro. But on Oct. 22-24, 2019, and with an unusual four-day gap between it and the Tokyo International Film Festival. Normally the two overlap.

The explanation given is the coronation of Emperor Naruhito on Oct. 22, which was declared a national holiday. Tokyo was full of foreign dignitaries for the coronation, and teeming with fans of the ongoing Rugby World Cup.

Shiina reports a 30% increase in sellers, to a record 405. And, at 950, the number of registered buyers has held steady compared with 2018. “With this growth, our current venue has become rather small,” says Shiina. “We’re trying to decide what to do about it.”

Does that mean TIFFCOM will relocate next year, as has been discussed? “It’s being studied,” Shiina says, using a Japanese word that can mean “maybe,” but usually means “no.”

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Among the biggest changes in the 2019 edition of TIFFCOM edition, has been are the heightened presences of the Chinese and Italian contingents. Both countries are being celebrated with market events. There are two China pavilions within the market – one from Beijing, one from Shanghai as well as an Italian one. Japan last year signed a co-production treaty with China, and has publicly said that it favors one with Italy.

Meanwhile, Chinese buyers are everywhere in the market. Shiina says this cannot be taken as indicating that Japanese films and other content have conquered Asia’s largest market.

“Some Japanese films, especially animation, have done well (in China), but this year not many have become hits,” he adds. “Chinese audiences can be tough.”

Still for Japanese sellers China, in particular, and Asia as a whole, have “great potential for growth,” Shiina suggests. “Young people there are open to all kinds of visual content.”

He says that Japan’s anime industry is being revitalized with younger creators like Makoto Shinkai, the director of the smash hits “Weathering with You” and “Your Name,” rising to replace an older generation at both the box office and in fans’ affections. “Japanese animation is in a good place now,” Shiina observes.

His view of TIFFCOM’s future is not as blithely optimistic. For one thing, next year’s Tokyo Olympics is forcing summer events to move to the fall. “It’s going to be a very crowded schedule in October and November (2020), when TIFFCOM and TIFF are held,” he says.

More importantly, a market like TIFFCOM, he says “is dependent on government support.” “Right now, the government sees advantages in supporting content businesses, but that can change.”

Nonetheless film and TV markets in general, he believes, are here to stay. “People still want that face-to-face communication,” Shiina says. “The question is which markets will survive?”

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