Fujitsu Ryota, programming advisor for the Tokyo International Film Festival’s anime section, has taken ‘onko-chishin,’ a four-kanji-character term meaning “respect the past, create the new,” as the guideline for this year’s selection.

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Fujitsu Ryota, Tokyo festival anime selector. Tokyo IFF

The festival has featured Japanese animation focuses for several years, reflecting anime’s position as a key component of the Japanese film industry. It is in high and growing demand internationally.

The “past” is examined in a three-film sidebar dedicated to the life and work of Otsuka Yasuo, an industry pioneer who died in March of this year. He was a mentor of the late Takahata Isao and the iconic Miyazaki Hayao.

“Otsuka is not well known overseas, but he worked on big jobs as an animator during the growth period of the animation industry from the 1950s to the 1980s, and had a great influence on the younger generation,” Fujitsu, told Variety. “He also wrote an autobiography and was a witness to the history of Japanese anime. We featured him because an overview of his achievements is also an overview of the history of Japanese animation.”

The section also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Kamen Rider tokusatsu (“special effects”) franchise, which has entertained generations of fans in Japan and around the world, with six theatrical films released from 1972 to 2010. “This sidebar has been included in the Japanese Animation section from the beginning, and it is not directly related to animation,” Fujitsu admits. “But since it deals with ‘characters,’ a main theme this year, we believe it belongs in the animation section.”

That theme is also explored in a four-film sidebar titled “Japanese Animation: Seeing 2021 Through the Main Character.” “The main characters of the four films are closely related to social issues that have characterized 2021,” says Fujitsu. “Such as the power imbalance between the weak and the strong; problems women face in their lives; the relationship between the local and the global; and the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.”

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“Inu-Oh” Courtesy of Inu-Oh Film Partners

Weak-versus-strong sums up the story of “Inu-Oh,” a Yuasa Masaaki animation about a dancer and Japanese lute player who bring the dazzle and energy of present-day pop to the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Despite being marginalized due to their disabilities – the lute player is blind and the dancer has physically deformities – they win throngs of fans while challenging establishment forces. Screened at Venice, Toronto and elsewhere to rave reviews, the film, as well as others in the section by such leading animators as Watanabe Ayumu, Ishizuka Atsuko and Mizushima Seiji, exemplify the new – and show that anime’s power in not all in its storied past.