Quiet TIFFCOM wraps with few sales

Some signs of improvement appear in Asian sectors

TOKYO -- Short, specialized and satisfactory seemed to be the verdict of sales agents and distributors attending TIFFCOM, the Tokyo Film Festival's accompanying market. Actual deals, however, were few in number.

The three-day mart wrapped on Thursday with a ceremony for the best property at the Tokyo Project Gathering, the festival's allied project market. The winner, chosen by Technicolor and rewarded with $20,000 worth of post-production services, was named as "Secrets on the Table," by Japanese writer-director Izuru Kumasaka.

"We were very impressed by the team behind this project, the way they want to use the Red camera and the way that they will be able to use this award," said Technicolor's Paul Stambaugh. Kumasaka said that production of the three-generation women's tale would likely begin in fall 2010.

In the main TIFFCOM market for finished product, attendance was little changed from last year. Organizers reported that the number of exhibitors increased by 4% from last year to 211 although the number of countries they came from dropped from 22 to 18. The biggest exhibitor nation was China, although in foreign delegate numbers China ranked fourth after South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Overall delegate registrations inched ahead by 1% to 4,037 and actual visits increased by 2%.

"Traffic has been pretty OK with a good number of Thai and Taiwanese buyers. There have been very few Europeans – one or two from the U.S., U.K. and Poland – very much as expected," said Hong Kong-based Distribution Workshop's Virginia Leung.

The company had two films in the festival and used Tokyo as a platform to junket the upcoming Jingle Ma actioner "Mulan." It was further attracted by TIFFCOM's special discount rates for first-time sellers.

Some sales agents blamed sluggish business on the weakness of the European and U.S. economies, while others pointed to market fatigue and fragmentation with TIFFCOM following MIPCOM, Rome and Pusan. "We closed nothing here. For our big titles we can afford to wait for two more weeks and the American Film Market," said Leung.

Intra-Asia business seemed resilient enough. "I don't think I've ever before seen all of the Hong Kong all-rights buyers together at one market except Cannes," said one TV executive, who was aiming to carve out the rights they need. "But they are all here in Tokyo, looking for the next (foreign-language Oscar-winner) 'Departures'."

"The market was better than we expected. We signed some deals and had meetings every 30 minutes for the first two days," said Nobohiko Kurosu of Japanese seller Kadokawa Pictures.
According to him the best genres were action, comedy and animation. "Buyers don't want anything slow such as drama, although Hong Kong Korea and Taiwan still show Japanese dramas on TV, which means star power still has some impact, but not a lot," he said.

The company sold action drama "King of Jail Breakers" to Bees Factory in Taiwan and is now planning a near simultaneous Japan-Taiwan release in January. Toei also closed a deal with Bees Factory for "A Good Husband," a melodrama which played last week in Pusan and scored a Korean distribution deal at that market.

Tokyo Broadcasting Systems used TIFFCOM to sell its Kimura Takuya- starring TV drama "Mr. Brain" to Videoland in Taiwan and to NATV for Singapore and Hong Kong. TV Asahi sold "The Negotiator" series to PCCW for Hong Kong.

Japanese TV companies have recently focused more attention on format sales, but closing deals with Asian buyers – the mainstay of TIFFCOM – is still a rarity. "In the West, companies are very familiar with the format sales business, whereas the sector isn't very developed within Asia yet," said Shinnosuke Kobayashi from TV Asahi's international program sales team.    

Japan, hit hard by recession and a shrinking indie film sector, proved happy hunting for at least one seller. "Japan remains a very important market for art-house films. It still has real buying power, but you need to spend time as Japanese companies don't do business with people they don't know," said James Liu of Taiwan's Joint Entertainment. "We met new buyers this time and we will be back at Tokyo next year."
The main Tokyo festival will close on Sunday with a prize ceremony and a screening of "Up."