Following a generation of organizational drift, the Tokyo International Film Festival has charted a course towards greater global influence under the ambitious leadership of current chairman Hiroyasu Ando. A career diplomat for Japan’s Foreign Service, Ando took the helm of the Tokyo festival in mid-2019 and quickly set about remaking the event, changing its location, shaking up the programming ranks, recruiting arthouse star Hirokazu Kore-eda to program a seminar series and adding more glamor to the after-dark parties and filmmaker fetes. A lot of that revitalization went unseen by the international film community, however, thanks to the long interregnum of the pandemic. In 2023, the Tokyo festival’s renewed outlook will be harder to miss.
“Now that the coronavirus disaster is fully over, we were able to make further progress in moving forward and upgrading our festival,” Ando tells The Hollywood Reporter.
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To leverage Japan’s strengths and boost the event’s role in the industry, Ando has pursued two central strategies in 2023: showcase the country’s rich cinematic heritage and position the festival as a hub for the growing film industries of the surrounding region.
This year is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Japanese cinema legend Yasujiro Ozu and to mark the occasion the Tokyo festival will screen a massive retrospective devoted to the director, including 33 of his features. German director Wim Wenders — arguably Ozu’s greatest champion in Western arthouse cinema, dating back to his 1985 documentary homage to the Japanese film legend, Tokyo-Ga — is the president of Tokyo’s competition jury this year. The festival opened Monday night with Wenders’ Tokyo-set drama Perfect Days, which has been selected by Japan as its official entry to the 96th Academy Awards in the best international film category. Perfect Days‘ star, local screen legend Koji Yakusho, won Cannes’ best actor award for his performance in the film, boosting its chances as a key Oscar contender.
Leveraging his four-decade career in diplomacy, Ando has made forging ties across the Asia-Pacific region a major priority for the festival during his tenure.
“Japan has occasionally acted as if it stands outside the region, but this is a festival that takes place in Asia — so we should strive to play an important role in our neighborhood,” he explains.
An emphasis on celebrating regional cinema is evident throughout the festival’s programming in 2023. The festival’s main competition includes three films from China — the same number as from Japan — and talk sessions are planned with leading filmmakers from across APAC, including Zhang Yimou (who collected a lifetime achievement award at the festival), Tony Leung, Tran Anh Hung, Yoji Yamada, Gu Xiaogang, Mouly Surya and Yang Yonghi. The event’s Kurosawa Akira Award, which is given to auteurs making their mark in world cinema, will be presented jointly to Surya and Gu, leading voices from Indonesia and China, respectively. Simultaneously, the festival is seeking to forge ties with the next generation of Asian film talent by hosting 100 film students from around the region who will participate in a seminar and post-talk networking party hosted by Kore-eda. The Tokyo fest also has collaborated on film selections this year via partnership arrangements with the Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai film festivals — collaborations Ando is bent on boosting.
The most immediately striking change in 2023, though, is simply the festival’s scale. The event is screening 219 films across its nine-day duration — 25 percent more than last year — and it will welcome over 600 international VIPs, including filmmakers, jury members and industry professionals, which is six times more than the number that attended in 2022.
Ando says the festival was able to expand thanks to tireless fundraising work, which brought in an additional 11 corporate sponsors in 2023.
“Of course, bigger is always better for a film festival,” he adds. “I’m quite happy about what we have achieved this year, but we would like to continue to expand next year. I already have a lot of tasks in my file for 2024.”
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