Market opens at Tokyo fest

Good foot traffic may or may not end up producing sales

TOKYO -- If movie industry buyers and sellers are tired of the non-stop caravan of film sales events, they scarcely showed it as the Tokyo festival's three-day market got underway Tuesday, less than a week after Pusan's Asian Film Market wrapped.

Held on the 40th floor of the colossal Mori Tower in Tokyo's colorful Roppongi district, the TIFFCOM corridors were busy, but not bursting. Many of the buyers and sellers were the same as had been spotted in Pusan.

If any deals were signed, they were being kept under wraps. The first day of the market is usually quiet on the signature front and Wednesday should show whether buyers are actually closing deals or are still  just window shopping. 

Several participants said that the number of Asian buyers seemed higher in Tokyo than at the Korean event, but then TIFFCOM is able to be more generous with flights and accommodation. Neither market counted many European or American buyers. Other executives pointed out that next month's American Film Market is where the greater action is likely to be and where more new product will be unveiled.

In fact, day one of TIFFCOM was a non-stop whirl of other seminars and press conferences.
A panel organized by the Beijing Municipal Bureau Radio, Film and Television looked at the issues and challenges facing China-Japan co-productions.

Shoji Udogawa from the Asian Contents Center, and the only Japanese presence on the panel, highlighted a lack of understanding among filmmakers in Japan regarding both working with Chinese companies and what would get past Chinese censors.

The panelists agreed that despite China and Japan's shared culture, trying to create projects with storylines that artificially link the two countries were unlikely to be successful in either.

A number of the panelists, including Zhongiun Ma from CWEN film distributors, expressed concern that budgets for Chinese productions were rising too quickly, even compared with the country's rapidly growing boxoffice. With marketing costs now eating up 30-40% of budgets, the revenue streams from DVD and television rights sales needed to become more developed, as they have been in Japan, the panel concluded.

At another panel, proposing stronger links between the Japanese and Hong Kong industries, Hong Kong-based Salon Films unveiled a blueprint for a big-budget, pan-Asian animation venture.

Called "Fly Baby Fly," the project about a butterfly which migrates around the region like a bird, was short on detail and long on good intentions. It was described as having a budget somewhere between $6 million and $20 million, with day-and-date releases in five Asian languages plus Arabic, and the near simultaneous release of an accompanying online game.
Production will take place in multiple locations around Asia.

In addition to Salon, the pic currently involves Casio Entertainment, the content arm of Japanese electronics manufacturer Casio, and Japanese talent management empire Yoshimoto Kogyo.

At another seminar on the salability of Japanese films, a quintet of sales agents discussed the problems facing the independent sales market.

"These days films need to be very clear in their message. In the last 10 years there have been a lot of fusions. Distributors now seem to want pure horror or pure rom-com," said Jamie Carmichael, founder of the U.K.'s Content Film, which handled Japanese Oscar winner "Departures." "And art-house films need to be the premium kind that play in main competition in Cannes or Berlin."

"Local humor can be a problem," said Fortissimo Films's Asian acquisitions executive Esther Yeung-Uchino, who also explained that most Japanese stars have no impact on sales or audiences outside Asia.