The Tokyo International Film Festival unveiled a range of operational changes Monday, including the appointment of a new programming director and a move of locations within the Japanese capital.
The shakeup reflects the continued influence of former Japanese diplomat Hiroyasu Ando, who was appointed festival chairman in 2019 and has vowed to boost the festival’s global relevancy.
“We produced Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizuguchi and so many others, and we still produce many great films,” Ando said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year. “But we don’t have a film festival that matches the level of our history, like our colleagues at the European festivals do.”
The Tokyo festival’s recent changes suggest that Ando may have both the vision and depth of government and industry connections necessary to mount the long-overdue strategic reinvention of Japan’s flagship cinema event.
The Tokyo festival’s 2021 edition will see the event move from its former headquarters in Roppongi to Tokyo’s swanky Hibiya Ginza district, a historic center of Japan’s film industry where many major studios are headquartered. Ando has previously spoken about the need to create a greater sense of buzz and community around the festival — a challenge given the Japanese capital’s vast scale. The Hibiya Ginza district should be an improvement upon the festival’s former home in Roppongi though, thanks to the area’s walkability and many high-end restaurants, hotels, cinemas and nightlife venues.
Ando’s team said Monday that they are “reexamining our approach to programming and plan to reorganize the overall structure of sections, as well as our approach to the festival’s main competition.” The festival said a new structure would likely be unveiled after the current review is complete.
In the meantime, a staffing shakeup suggests significant programming changes are indeed to come. Shozo Ichiyama, a producer and festival veteran, has been named Tokyo’s programming director, replacing Yoshi Yatabe, who held the role since 2004. Ichiyama was previously head of Tokyo Filmex, a festival that was once a rival of the Tokyo International Film Festival but recently became an ally. The two events will be held concurrently in Hibiya in 2021, allowing international guests and local filmgoers to participate easily in both events. Ichiyama is best known as a producer for his long-running collaboration with the celebrated Chinese auteur, Jia Zhangke.
“TIFF is about to undergo a major transformation,” Ichiyama said in a statement. “I hope that I can make full use of my experience and knowledge and contribute to that transformation.”
Takeo Hisamatsu, meanwhile, is stepping down from his role as festival director. Hisamatsu, a veteran of the Japanese film industry, had been in the job since 2017 but was sidelined to an extent by the appointment of Ando in mid-2019.
In an encouraging sign for global arthouse buffs, Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda will continue his recent association with the Tokyo film festival, again programming the new Asia Lounge Conversation series. The program combines panel discussions with informal gatherings featuring emerging and established arthouse directors from across Asia. Last year’s impressive debut roster included talks with Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin), Thai Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa (recent winner of the Venice Silver Lion for Wife of a Spy), rising Korean director Kim Bora (House of Hummingbird) and Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang (Stray Dog), among many others. Kore-eda has said he plans to eventually bring filmmakers he admires from the West into the programming.
Perhaps the most meaningful of all of Tokyo’s changes announced Monday was the organization’s belated commitment to representation and diversity. After several years of inaction, Tokyo said it has signed the 5050×2020 pledge, which commits the festival to work towards gender parity on its executive boards, compile statistics on the gender of the filmmakers and key crew members for all films submitted to the festival, and increase selection transparency along gender lines. The pledge has been signed by 156 film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin and Venice, but Tokyo is the first major cinema event in Asia to board the charter.
“I hope that filmmakers and audiences from Japan and across the globe will be able to gather in Tokyo to celebrate this year’s film festival, overcoming the challenges caused by COVID-19,” Ando added in a statement Monday. “We will continue to do our best to surmount them.”
Tokyo previously said it would take place in a hybrid in-person/online format for its 34th edition, which runs Oct. 30-Nov. 8 this year.