In his second year as programming director, industry veteran Shozo Ichiyama believes he has taken another step closer to realizing his vision for the Tokyo International Film Festival.
A producer known for working with China’s Jia Zhangke, Japan’s Takeshi Kitano and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ichiyama is striving to make TIFF a gateway between the Japanese and global film worlds, and raise the level of the content screened.
Ichiyama’s delight at the return of overseas guests for this edition is palpable. And he says he’s been particularly encouraged at the number of people who have been prepared to pay their own way to Tokyo to attend the festival with their films.
Another positive for Ichiyama and the festival, this time on the domestic front, is the higher number of Japanese films in all the major sections this year.
“Last year, we couldn’t find Japanese films for the gala selection. We had some good independent Japanese films but production at the majors was not so active, and they postponed the release of some titles due to the pandemic situation,” explains Ichiyama. “Some people thought that last year the festival wasn’t selecting films from the [Japanese] major studios but it’s not true; we asked them, there just weren’t any available.”
He also notes that TIFF received a slew of strong submissions from the Middle-East this year but fewer high-quality films from Southeast Asia, and almost no titles from Japan’s giant neighbor.
“We have only one Chinese film, in the Asian Future section. What I heard is that many films are struggling get approval from the censorship board [in China] because it is not meeting. The situation has been similar at festivals in Europe, where they have shown few films from China. I’m hoping we will have a lot of good Chinese films next year,” he says.
Now ultimately responsible for programming across the whole fest, the situation is different from years gone by, when the line-up for each section was chosen independently. Therefore, any criticism on the selection should be sent his way, he says with a smile.
“Many of the films I selected deal with social or political problems. It doesn’t mean I intended to choose such films but after I finished the selection process, I noticed that many featured LGBTQ themes and so on. I think many filmmakers are tackling such issues now,” he opines.
Ichiyama spent 21 years at Tokyo Filmex and the two festivals have been working closely together since he made the jump across town to TIFF. However, after unspooling concurrently last year, Ichiyama said some film fans complained that too many screenings clashed, and so Filmex will open on Oct. 29, five days after TIFF kicked off.
In terms of creating more connections with the global industry, he points to the positioning of the TIFF Lounge — home to the Asia Lounge series and other talk events — in an accessible street-level restaurant called Micro, near Yurakucho Station and many of the venues.
“We’re having talk sessions there every day, and we hope it becomes a place where people can meet and then go out for dinner,” says Ichiyama. “To have this kind of space is very important for a film festival.”
Another part of the initiatives to build cross-border exchanges is inviting Japanese directors who don’t have films screening, including Koji Fukada, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Hirokazu Kore-eda, to give talks and participate in events.
And with the return of an in-person TIFFCOM content market next year, along with expectations that air travel costs may return to more affordable levels, Ichiyama hopes even more people will be making the trip to Tokyo in 2023.