Despite its size and status as Japan's only International Federation of Film Producers Associations (Fiapf) accredited event, the Tokyo International Film Festival (Tiff) has sometimes been overlooked outside Japan.
But as Tiff enters its 21st edition (October 18-26), a new mission statement together with Asia's growing interconnection is bringing the centrepiece of the Japan International Contents Festival (CoFesta) into sharper focus. And with a new chairman, Gaga Communications chairman and well-known industry figure Tatsumi 'Tom' Yoda, at the helm, it heralds a new era for Tiff as the world's most eco-conscious film festival.
For its 2008 edition, Tiff's theme is ecology. Its logo has gone green, its new motto is 'Action! for Earth' and the red carpet has been replaced by a green one made from recycled plastic bottles which will stretch up Keyakizaka Street for the star-studded premiere of Red Cliff at Roppongi Hills.
Major new sponsor Toyota is supporting the added 'natural Tiff' programme and will hand out the Earth grand prix to the most eco-minded film.
With 690 submissions from 72 countries in this year's Sakura grand prix competition, figures are up from last year. 'We're not really 'competing' with other accredited festivals, but trying to create a line up with a good balance between high-quality and premiere films, offering audiences a wide range,' explains competition programmer Yoshi Yatabe.
The $100,000 purse - back up to its 2006 level after being halved last year - is no small incentive. Fifteen films will vie for the award, including four world premieres: Hong Kong's Claustrophobia, China's Super Typhoon and Japanese titles Echo Of Silence and School Days With A Pig.
When The Band's Visit won the grand prix last year, it proved Tokyo could pick a winner - the film took more than 20 awards worldwide - as well as boosting Nikkatsu's Japanese release in December. 'It gave it more push than films we've opened in Berlin or Cannes. A Tiff competition slot adds value,' explains a Nikkatsu marketing executive. The company is also hoping Tiff will kick start foreign sales for Tetsu Maeda's School Days With A Pig.
The view from overseas is also positive. Ivy Ho's Claustrophobia is the first production from Irresistible Films' Asian film fund established earlier this year. 'As a new company set up with the hope of fostering the next generation of Asian film-makers, we're proud Claustrophobia is participating in competition at Tiff,' says Irresistible's managing director Nansun Shi. The festival's ever-expanding Winds of Asia programme also echoes the continent's strengthening ties.
The Special Screenings section of the festival showcases premieres of foreign and local films with Japanese distributors attached. Films set to screen this year include Blindness (starring newly appointed Tiff ambassador Yoshino Kimura), Elegy, The Shonen Merikensack and closing film Wall-E.
Local companies from Toei to Shochiku agree Tiff provides an invaluable adrenaline shot in terms of publicity. 'As one of the 10 biggest film festivals in the world, it makes it easier to invite stars and guests to Japan. The media presence, green carpet and press conferences create a synergy,' explains Yuka Hoshino, the head of marketing at Gaga.
Tiff is not known as an event where deals are signed. And since the launch of the attendant Tiffcom market five years ago, tangible links between the two have been slow to appear. This year however, three of the world premieres in Special Screenings, including Shochiku's The Cherry Orchard - Blossoming, will also screen at the market. 'Co-operation between Tiff and Tiffcom will greatly increase in the future,' says the market's deputy director, Mika Morishita.