Tokyo: Programmer Shozo Ichiyama on Making the Festival a Hub for Asia and Beyond

Shozo Ichiyama’s first two years as programming director of the Tokyo International Film Festival were overshadowed by travel restrictions sparked by a stubborn and deadly pandemic, but now he is looking to this edition of the festival to fully reflect the lineup revamp he has been working toward.

A well-connected film festival veteran and international producer, Ichiyama’s aims are for a coherent and connected film slate, along with making Tokyo a place where the industry from Asia and beyond come to meet.

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The latter aim takes a step toward being realized by the more than 600 overseas guests expected at the 2023 edition of the festival (compared to around 100 in 2022), and “more requests coming in every day,” with attendee numbers boosted by the return of an in-person TIFFCOM content market after a three-year pandemic-inflicted hiatus.

Meanwhile, with film production globally now firing again on all cylinders, there has been an increase in both the quality and quantity of the submissions to the fest this year, says Ichiyama: “I think the competition lineup is very much stronger than last year. There are more premieres this year too. It wasn’t intended; I just selected good films and it happened that they hadn’t been shown at other festivals yet.”

Ichiyama hails the return of Chinese films (three) to competition after censorship issues greatly reduced the number available for festivals everywhere last year. Personnel changes at the censorship bureau in China at the beginning of this year and post-pandemic recovery have helped greatly improve the situation, says Ichiyama. “There are also a lot of quality films from young Chinese filmmakers. We had to turn down some very good films from China this time.”

One of the new initiatives is the festival inviting students from around Asia to attend masterclasses in Tokyo with leading industry figures such as filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, who will also oversee the TIFF Lounge series of talk shows for the fourth year. Ichiyama sees such events, along with filmmaking workshops for children (in its sixth year), as central pillars of the fest’s mission to contribute to the future of Asian cinema.

However, the festival’s scope is not limited to Asia, and this year boasts a double dose of Wim Wenders, with his Tokyo-set Perfect Days as the opening film and the German auteur heading the jury for the main competition.

“When he was shooting Perfect Days in Japan last year, festival chairman [Yasuhiro] Ando asked him to be on the jury,” says Ichiyama. “Then during Berlin Film Festival Ando-san and I visited his office and he confirmed he would serve as head of the jury. Perfect Days was still in post-production … but we saw it in Cannes [where Koji Yakusho won best actor for his turn as a toilet cleaner] and we all loved it, so we’re very happy to have it as the opening film.”

A big fan of Yasujiro Ozu, the celebration of 120 years since the birth of the legendary director was probably another reason Wenders agreed to attend, says Ichiyama, who recalls that Wenders also appeared at the 90th-anniversary events in Tokyo 30 years ago.

Another change for this edition is the internationalization of the Japanese animation section, itself only launched a decade ago. “We realized there are so many good animation films from abroad,” says Ichiyama. “And we’ve invited many of the filmmakers, who will have symposiums with Japanese animators. It’s also a chance for Japanese audiences to experience animation from Europe, China and elsewhere.”

Ichiyama has high hopes that with guests from overseas up fivefold on last year, the industry now free of the last traces of the pandemic, and a rejigged and strengthened film line-up, this year’s edition will finally be close to the kind of event he and Ando are aiming for.

Says Ichiyama: “Tokyo film festival should be a meeting place both for professionals and young people who are aiming to be professionals… If younger people have a good experience at the festival and then go on to be filmmakers, we hope they will select TIFF to screen their films,” Ichiyama said.

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