While the Tokyo International Film Festival struggles to regain ground lost to Asian competition, like the recent Pusan Film Festival, a new event has arisen right under its nose.
Tokyo FILMeX celebrates its third edition this year with a line-up that definitely, almost defiantly, emphasises culture over commerce. Instead of TIFF's selection of Hollywood blockbusters and local mainstream fare, FILMeX, which runs from December 1 to 8, features films by some of the best and brightest young directorial talent now working in Asia, as well as by such leaders of the Japanese New Wave as Shinya Tsukamoto and Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
FILMeX programmers Kanako Hayashi and Shozo Ichiyama are not, like TIFF's, executives, seconded from major distributors, but are veterans of the international festival circuit who have developed close contacts with leading Asian directors and producers.
Their selection - nine films in competition and 12 in special screenings - features several world premieres, including Kurosawa's Bright Future and two films produced by After Life director Hirokazu Kore'eda, as well as new films by Tsukamoto (A Snake Of June), Amos Gitai (Kedma) and Ann Hui (Visible Secret). The festival opened with Alexander Sokorov's Russian Ark and will close with Otar Osselliani's Berlin Silver Bear winner Monday Morning.
While established auteurs dominate the Special Screenings, the focus of the competition section is on promising younger directors from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Iran and Tajikistan.
"We hope to give these artists a boost," Hayashi said in a pre-festival press interview. "There are a lot of international festival programmers watching our line-up, so a film that premieres at FILMeX could still go on to play Rotterdam, Berlin or Cannes."
The competition jury is chaired by Korean star Ahn Sung-ki (Musa - The Warrior, Last Witness) and includes French critic Jean-Michel Frodon, Hong Kong director Ann Hui, Iranian director Amir Naderi and Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Since its humble start three years ago in one Tokyo theatre, FILMeX has grown to three venues and boasts a sponsor list that includes media powerhouses Asahi Shimbun, TV Asahi and J-Wave, with funding provided by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Despite these and other impressive names, FILMeX has no ambition to supplant its larger cross-town rival. Instead it is offering an alternative that is rapidly rising in stature and importance, not only in Japan, but throughout Asia and the rest of the world.