Tokyo Film Festival Opening Is Held In-Person, as Low Key Event Masks Multiple Changes

Isabelle Huppert in Tokyo
Tokyo International FF

Japan’s newly-instaled Prime Minister Kishida Fumio sent a video message on Saturday to the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Film Festival.

“I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for your ingenuity and dedication in organizing this new type of film festival, a hybrid of the real and online,” Kishida said.

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Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio sends video message to Tokyo International Film Festival. Tokyo International FF

Where previous Japanese premiers have trod the red carpet, Kishida’s careful social distancing was in keeping with a low-key ceremony and prevailing anti-COVID conditions. But the unflashy presentation also masked several key changes.

The festival, in its 34th edition, runs Oct. 30-Nov.8, 2021 and has this year shifted from the Roppongi district to the nearby Hibiya district. The opening ceremony was held for the first time at Yurakucho’s Tokyo International Forum Hall, part of a multipurpose complex that is only a few minutes from the new Tokyo Midtown Hibiya festival hub.

For the second time, the Tokyo festival is cooperating closely with the Tokyo Filmex festival, which used to take place a few weeks later and compete for key Asian art house titles. The Tokyo festival has gone one step further and now installed Ichiyama Shozo, Filmex co-founder, as its new programming head.

Ichiyama, Saturday, took up an unusual position handling red carpet commentary and continuity announcements from an outside studio for the festival’s livestream and YouTube channels.

The festival is pushing ahead with in-person screenings, but the number will be reduced compared with the pre-pandemic era. It includes 126 films, of which 31 (or 24%) are claimed to be world premieres. Japanese films make up 68 of 54% of the total. The festival previously signed a pledge aiming for gender parity and said that some 33 films in its selection are directed by female filmmakers, and four “by directors of both genders.”

International guest numbers were also sharply down, just 42 on the red carpet, according to festival sources. They included senior figures from fellow film festivals: Carlo Chatrian, artistic director at Berlin; Christian Jeune, deputy general manager at Cannes; and Frederic Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca festival.

“This is the beginning of a new adventure [for Tokyo] and a new venue,” said Jeune. “It is important that that in this time of crisis we all stick together.”

Other guests of note included the five competition jury members: actor Isabelle Huppert; director Aoyama Shinji; critic and festival programmer Chris Fujiwara; composer and songwriter Sebu Hiroko; and Lorna Tee, producer and former Variety executive.

The 45-minute opening ceremony was followed by the screening of Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho.” “Through this film, I’d like to deliver my interpretation of ‘ true strength.’ ‘Cry Macho’ was shot during the pandemic and I hope it can bring courage and strength to the film industry,” said Eastwood in a message. The film will have its commercial release in Japan in January, 2022.