Chinese Companies Boycott Tokyo Film Market


Dealmaking suffers as a land dispute between China and Japan boils over at annual event linked with the Tokyo International Film Festival.

TOKYO – The bitter political dispute over a group of islands lying between China and Japan has spilled over into the entertainment industry, with Chinese companies boycotting the market at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) en masse. Chinese films have also been pulled, while the festival ignored a last-minute request to withdraw Feng Shui, which has been entered for the festival’s top prize.

The TIFFCOM market that accompanies TIFF opened on October 23 with the entire China pavilion missing and only two Chinese companies exhibiting, even though a smattering of buyers had made the trip to Tokyo.

Wang Yu, president of Ray Production, the only Chinese company with an actual booth at the Tokyo market, said: “We were not put under any pressure not to come to TIFFCOM, but I heard that it was suggested to some companies that not attending would be the better choice.”

The company has been coming to TIFFCOM for five years, according to Wang, who said he believed “film is not part of politics and should not be dragged into it." He added: “We should continue with this kind of non-governmental cultural exchange; it's very important for filmmakers from both countries."

A sales agent for a major Japanese studio described how negotiations over a distribution deal with a Chinese company came to a sudden halt last month when tempers flared over the islands, known to the Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands and to the Japanese as the Senkakus.

"The distributors came to TIFFCOM today and explained that they would have to wait until maybe the end of the year for things to calm down,” said the agent, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Chinese film Double Xposure was originally chosen from more than 1,300 entries at this year’s TIFF as one of the 15 titles to compete for the festival’s main prize, the Sakura Grand Prix.

“Our film was actually selected as a competition film, but with the announcement being on September 20, at the height of the [anti-Japanese] demonstrations in China, we decided we could not accept the nomination,” Shirley Huang, head of the Japan operations of producers Laurel Films, revealed exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter.  

However, following a successful run at the Chinese box office, the film was on sale at TIFFCOM.

Confusion has reigned around the screening of Feng Shui, with the festival originally receiving an unsigned message asking to withdraw the film. Organizers at first dismissed the request as unofficial - before getting a formal demand from the film’s producers, Beijing Antaeus Films, to cancel screenings the day before the festival opened on October 20. Brandishing a contract signed by the company, TIFF went ahead and still showed the film on October 22.

The reaction of companies from Korea, which also has an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan over an uninhabited island claimed by both countries that heated up recently, has been markedly different. On the day that TIFFCOM opened, a group of Korean lawmakers visited that island, Dokdo, or Takeshima, as known in Japanese, resulting in official protests from Tokyo. Nevertheless, Korean exhibitors represent the biggest overseas contingent at TIFFCOM, with a record number in attendance this year.

“We don’t care as much as the Chinese do about the island issues,” said the international sales manager of a major Korean exhibitor, who declined to be named. “Japan is a key market for us, and we never considered pulling out.”

As for the fate of Feng Shui in the TIFF competition, some festival-goers have suggested Tokyo’s best response would be to give it one of the major prizes – a test, perhaps, of whether patriotism or pragmatism is more alluring for the producers concerned.