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Japan’s flagship cinema event has been undergoing a creative overhaul of late, involving leadership shake-ups, a change of location and some restructuring of its programming approach. But one of the most immediately exciting aspects of the event’s reinvention for global film buffs is the new “Asia Lounge” conversation series, hosted and programmed by Japanese Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda.
Introduced at the 2020 Tokyo festival, the program pairs Asian auteurs and actors for informal but wide-ranging conversations about cinema and their craft. This year’s Asia Lounge program will take place on eight consecutive nights (Oct. 31-Nov. 7) and will feature Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) in conversation with Japanese anime veteran Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai), French screen goddess Isabelle Huppert paired with Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi (winner of Cannes’ 2021 best screenplay award for his latest feature Drive My Car), Thai Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Japanese star Hidetoshi Nishijima, along with five other inspired pairings.
All of the Asia Lounge discussions will be live-streamed by the festival with simultaneous English translation. Kore-eda originally envisioned the program as a physical event and hangout space that would run throughout the festival to create a sense of place and convivial festival atmosphere in downtown Tokyo, but the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to shift online. Organizers say they are still hoping to invite international industry figures to the Japanese capital for the 2021 festival, but decisions will depend on how the local public health situation and Japan’s national immigration policies unfold over the coming weeks. At present, all visitors to Japan must undergo a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival.
The festival unveiled its 2021 competition lineup, as well as the selections for its other programming strands, at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo’s central Hibiya district. The selection of 15 competition titles includes two anticipated world premieres from the Philippines, Brillante Mendoza’s latest, Payback, and 29-year-old talent Mikhail Red’s revenge film Arisaka.
Some of the other highlights are Third Time Lucky from Japan’s Tadashi Nohara, who co-wrote Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s latest feature Wife of a Spy, which won the best director award in Venice in 2020. Just three of the selected films are directed by women, including Korea’s Shin Su-won’s latest feature Hommage, starring Lee Jeong-eun of Parasite fame, and Romanian director Teodora Ana Mihai’s Cannes Un Certain Regard contender La Civil, which was produced by the Dardenne brothers and is making its Asian premiere in Tokyo (the festival’s full lineup is now online).
As previously announced, Huppert also will serve as head of Tokyo’s main competition jury this year, with other jury members forthcoming.
Tokyo will open and close with two U.S. titles, Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho and Stephen Chbosky’s Dear Evan Hansen, respectively. Other crowd-pleasing titles to receive gala screenings at the festival ahead of the their local Japan commercial releases will be Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Jane Campion’s Venice best director winner The Power of the Dog, Apitchatpong’s Tilda Swinton-starrer Memoria and the late Benny Chan’s Chinese blockbuster Raging Fire, among others.
A panel discussion dubbed the “World Cinema Conference” will be a new addition to Tokyo’s programming this year. The panel will feature a number of figures from premiere film festivals around the world — Frédéric Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival; Berlin’s artistic director Carlo Chatrian; and Christian Jeune, director of the film department for Cannes — discussing trends and currents in world cinema.
Tokyo’s new Nippon Cinema Now section, which showcases emerging Japanese directors deemed worthy of wider global recognition, will include 10 titles. The section will also highlight the work of Keisuke Yoshida, who is Tokyo’s Japanese filmmaker in focus this year.
The festival’s expansive Japanese anime sidebar, meanwhile, includes three sub-themes this year: a mini retrospective dedicated to the work of the late Yasuo Ōtsuka, whose influential career spanned decades and included the mentorship of a young Hayao Miyazaki; a Tokusatsu section celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Kamen Rider meta-series; and a survey of new anime releases gathered under the theme “Seeing 2021 Through the Main Character,” which will include new works by Masaaki Yuasa (Inu-oh) and others.
The Tokyo International Film Festival opens Oct. 30 and closes Nov. 8. The TIFFCOM industry convention and film market runs in tandem Nov. 1-3.
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