Celebrating its 25th edition in 2012, the Tokyo International Film Festival (Oct 20-28) has become a major launchpad into Japan and a source of films for local distributors.

Once considered by some as something of an afterthought on the international calendar, the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is now fully airborne, as per chairman Tom Yoda’s “hop, step, jump” strategy which aimed to raise the event’s international profile within his original three-year term, starting in 2008. Two further editions under Yoda have seen TIFF take flight, not only in terms of its film selection but also on business and altruistic fronts.

“Our slogan this year is ‘The Power of Films, Now!’,” says Yoda, whose tenure was extended last year. “After the disaster of March 11 last year, we held a programme in Tohoku and were reminded of the ability for films to connect people and give them hopes and dreams.”

The festival’s co-opening film, Japan In A Day, is a co-production between Fuji TV and Scott Free Productions that chronicles one day in the lives of survivors on March 11 this year. Also opening TIFF is the world premiere of the James Cameron-produced Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away. TIFF has had an ongoing relationship with Cameron since Titanic premiered at the festival in 1997, and it has been a big supporter of 3D.

Put together by programming director Yoshi Yatabe, with support from producer Jeremy Thomas - who has acted as TIFF’s executive adviser since 2010 - the competition features several films fresh from Venice and Toronto such as Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s What Maisie Knew, Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking and Nick Cassavetes’ Yellow. World premieres among the 15 titles competing for the $50,000 Sakura Grand Prix include Riri Riza’s refugee drama Atambua 39° Celsius, Elisa Fuksas’ Italian-language debut feature Nina and two local films: Tetsuaki Matsue’s music documentary Flashback Memories 3D and Hiroshi Okuhara’s Beijing-set The Black Square.

“We have an excellent line-up of films this year and hope to contribute to Japanese box office in the way last year’s winner Intouchables has done,” says Yoda, of the film that has so far taken more than $6m in the territory.

With annual media coverage valued at more than $50m, TIFF is a major launchpad for a Japanese theatrical run. However, until recently TIFF rarely functioned as a destination for local distributors to buy films. That is changing. With companies tightening overseas travel budgets, TIFF is an attractive option for local distributors and last year’s edition saw a leap in acquisitions, with a record 15 titles picked up.

‘We hope to contribute to Japanese box office in the way last year’s winner, Intouchables, has done’

Tom Yoda, TIFF

For example, Tony Kaye’s hard-hitting classroom drama Detachment, which won best artistic contribution award in the TIFF competition last year, was picked up by distributor Only Hearts for a 2013 release. The company’s CEO, Shimpei Okuda, points out one practical advantage of seeing films at TIFF: “With arthouse dramas, where dialogue is an important element, being able to watch them with Japanese subtitles is a significant benefit.”

The festival’s World Cinema section, which screens titles that have already won acclaim at other events, is also becoming a popular viewing opportunity for distributors. Paddy Considine’s directorial debut, Tyrannosaur, was last year acquired by Shin Nippon Films for a release this October 20 under distribution label Espace Sarou.

“For smaller distributors such as us, TIFF is an extremely effective place to discover strong films we may have overlooked,” says Shin Nippon acquisitions rep Kayo Sato. “And buying titles already subtitled in Japanese keeps costs down.”

Other titles discovered at TIFF 2011 include Sam Levinson’s Sundance winner Another Happy Day, which will open through Aya Pro this December, Cédric Kahn’s A Better Life, slated for a February 2013 release through Pandora, and Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, which will be released next year by Transformer. The trend also applies to homegrown titles. Low-budget Japanese films produced without a distribution plan have a harder time than ever getting onto screens, but since TIFF began repurposing its Japanese Eyes programme from 2008 to focus more on independents, they are getting a better shot.

Keiichi Kobayashi’s About The Pink Sky secured a slot at Sundance in January after premiering at TIFF last year and will be released this November by Uzumasa, while distributor Boid opens Kyoshi Sugita’s A Song I Remember at Tokyo arthouse Eurospace this month.


A Hijacking (Den)
Asian premiere
Dir Tobias Lindholm

Accession (S Afr)
Asian premiere
Dir Michael J Rix

Araf - Somewhere In Between (Turk-Fr-Ger)
Asian premiere
Dir Yesim Ustaoglu

Atambua 39° Celsius (Indon)
World premiere
Dir Riri Riza

The Black Square (Jap)
World premiere
Dir Hiroshi Okuhara

Feng Shui (Chi)
World premiere
Dir Wang Jing

Flashback Memories 3D (Jap)
World premiere
Dir Tetsuaki Matsue

Hannah Arendt (Ger)
Asian premiere
Dir Margarethe von Trotta

Juvenile Offender (S Kor)
Asian premiere
Dir Kang Yi-kwan

Nina (It)
World premiere
Dir Elisa Fuksas

No (Chile-US-Mex)
Asian premiere
Dir Pablo Larrain

The Other Son (Fr)
Asian premiere
Dir Lorraine Levy

Ship Of Theseus (Ind)
Asian premiere
Dir Anand Gandhi

What Maisie Knew (US)
International premiere
Dirs Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Yellow (US)
Asian premiere
Dir Nick Cassavetes


The Tokyo contents market is expanding in 2012

For its ninth edition this year, TIFF’s attendant contents market TIFFCOM (October 23-25) makes a big move to Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront district, with a larger venue and more screens to accommodate more exhibitors.

Matching the increase in space, the number of booths have shot up by 20% with 35 first-time exhibitors joining the event (16 from Japan and 19 from overseas). New national pavilions include Spain, Mexico, Taiwan and Malaysia along with several new animation companies.

The revamped project market brings in a new partner in Ateliers du Cinéma Européen (ACE) as part of the ACE co-production lab (October 23-26). The lab brings together European and Japanese producers for a four-day workshop with presentations, pitching sessions and networking events.

With the second round of government support for Japan’s co-production subsidy set up in 2011, producers have a greater chance than ever of making films in what has traditionally been a difficult territory with which to co-produce.