Tokyo Film Festival Signs Gender Parity Pledge as Part of a Major Shakeup

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Tokyo International Film Festival

Just weeks after Japan’s Olympic Games chief was forced to resign over his sexist comments, the Tokyo International Film Festival has become the first major festival in Asia to sign a gender parity pledge. The move was announced on Monday as part of a quartet of major shakeup development moves.

The festival said that it will relocate to a new district in Tokyo for the first time in 16 years and rethink its competition section. It has also appointed Ichiyama Shozo, from previously rival festival Tokyo Filmex, as its new head of programming.

The festival was held last year as an event which combined in-person and online events. It was previously already announced that the 2021 edition will continue to be held as a hybrid, running Sat. Oct. 30 – to Mon Nov. 8, 2021. The accompanying TIFFCOM market will operate Monday to Wednesday, Nov. 1-3, 2021.

The festival said on Monday that it signed the gender parity pledge – which commits it to transparency on matters including in film selection, committee members, film directors, cast and crew – on March 8, International Women’s Day. The pledge was launched at Cannes in 2018 by the Collectif 50/50 and has so far attracted 156 adherents.

Japan has an enduring legacy of male power and privilege which was blatantly exposed by the debacle of the 83-year-old former prime minister Mori Yoshiro, head of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee, criticizing women for talking too much and taking up time in meetings. His subsequent apology did little to quell rising public feeling and he was pushed to resign in February.

It is not clear if there is any connection between the Tokyo Festival’s decision to sign the pledge and the other changes announced. These include the resignation of Hisamatsu Takeo, who had been festival director since 2017, and who will depart at the end of this month.

A media statement neither announced a replacement festival director, nor thanked Hisamatsu for his past three years. TIFF chairman Ando Hiroyasu “will continue in a leadership role,” the festival said.

The statement said that the festival is “reexamining” its approach to programming. “(We) plan to reorganize the overall structure of sections as well as our approach to the competition, with announcements to be made once the re-evaluation is complete,” it said.

While the new structure is officially a work in progress, some direction can be discerned from the announcement that Ichiyama will take over from Yatabe Yoshi, who has overseen programming since 2004. Yatabe will leave his role at the end of the month.

Ichiyama, who was once a Tokyo festival programmer, quit to found Filmex. In the intervening period, he has also become a renown independent film producer, closely allied with giants of the Asian film scene including Jia Zhangke, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Kitano Takeshi. His return to the Tokyo Festival means that he will cease to be a programmer for Filmex.

However, the new announcement made it clear that, after last year’s COVID-inflicted experiment of having the two festivals cooperate, such collaboration is on the cards again.

The most visible manifestation of the new wind blowing through the Tokyo festival is the commitment to move the center of the festival from the Roppongi district to Hibiya-Ginza.

The area has a long tradition as a cinema center, and boasts abundant theaters, hotels and restaurants. It is also the main venue of Tokyo Filmex. “The new proximity of the two festivals will enable enhanced convenience for audiences to watch films at both,” the Tokyo festival said. The Asia Lounge talk series will also return to Hibiya after its launch there last year.

“I hope that filmmakers and audiences from Japan and across the globe will be able to gather in Tokyo to celebrate this year’s film festival, overcoming the challenges caused by COVID-19. We will continue to do our best to surmount them,” said Ando.