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Tokyo: Programmer Shozo Ichiyama on Making Festival Bridge Between Japanese and Global Film Worlds

In his second year as director of programming, industry veteran Shozo Ichiyama believes he has taken another step toward realizing his vision for the Tokyo International Film Festival.

A producer known for working with China’s Jia Zhangke, Japan’s Takeshi Kitano, and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ichiyama strives to make TIFF a gateway between the Japanese and global film worlds, and raise the bar for projected content.

Ichiyama’s joy at the return of foreign guests for this edition is palpable. And he says that he has been particularly encouraged by the number of people who have been willing to pay for his trip to Tokyo to attend the festival with his films.

Another positive for Ichiyama and the festival, this time on a national level, is the increased number of Japanese films in all the main sections this year.

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“Last year, we couldn’t find Japanese films for the gala selection. We had some good independent Japanese films, but the production in the big ones was not as active and they postponed the release of some titles due to the pandemic situation, ”explains Ichiyama. “Some people thought that last year the festival was not selecting films from the [Japanese] great studies but it is not true; we asked them, there just weren’t any available.”

He also points out that TIFF received a lot of strong submissions from the Middle East this year, but fewer high-quality films from Southeast Asia and almost no titles from Japan’s neighboring giant.

“We only have one Chinese film, in the Asian Future section. What I hear is that many movies are struggling to get approval from the censorship board. [in China] because it is not found. The situation has been similar at festivals in Europe, where few Chinese films have been screened. I hope we will have a lot of good Chinese movies next year,” he says.

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Now ultimately responsible for the programming of the entire festival, the situation is different from years ago, when the line-up for each section was chosen independently. Therefore, any criticism of the selection should be sent his way, he says with a smile.

“Many of the films I selected deal with social or political issues. It doesn’t mean that I intended to choose those movies, but after I finished the selection process, I noticed that many had LGBTQ themes, etc. I think a lot of filmmakers are addressing these issues now,” he opines.

Ichiyama spent 21 years at Tokyo Filmex and the two festivals have been working closely together since he made the jump to TIFF. However, after going offline at the same time last year, Ichiyama said that some movie fans complained that too many screenings coincided, so Filmex will open on October 29, five days after the start of TIFF.

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In terms of creating more connections with the global industry, he points to the positioning of the TIFF Lounge, home to the Asia Lounge series and other talk events, in an accessible street-side restaurant called Micro, near Yurakucho Station and many of the places. .

“We have chat sessions every day, and we hope it becomes a place where people can meet and then go out for dinner,” says Ichiyama. “Having this kind of space is very important for a film festival.”

Another part of the initiatives to build cross-border exchanges is inviting Japanese directors who don’t have film screenings, including Koji Fukada, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Hirokazu Kore-eda, to give talks and participate in events.

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And with the return of an in-person TIFFCOM content marketplace next year, coupled with expectations that air travel costs could return to more affordable levels, Ichiyama expects even more people to travel to Tokyo in 2023.

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