Tokyo Market CEO on Getting a China Boost, Netflix and the 2020 Olympics

Japan Content Showcase CEO Yasushi Shiina - P 2017
Courtesy of Japan Content Showcase

Yasushi Shiina, the boss of TIFFCOM and the Japan Content Showcase, also discusses the appeal of Japanese content abroad and his idea for a gap-financing market.

Tokyo's TIFFCOM market and broader Japan Content Showcase, which runs through Thursday, has set a record for the number of exhibitors, and Chinese buyers have become the largest foreign contingent this year.

TIFFCOM and music market TIMM are affiliated with the Tokyo Film Festival, with TIFFCOM focusing on film, TV, characters and more. It has attracted 382 exhibitors this year, up from 371 in 2017. Organizers estimate that $60 million in deals were struck at the market last year, up from $53 million in 2016.

For the second year in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of the Japanese capital, organizers are using a new hall at the Sunshine City convention center for a group of exhibitors that is a little bit bigger than one used last year.

Yasushi Shiina, the CEO of TIFFCOM, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the growth drivers of the market, particularly attendees from China, the popularity of Japanese content abroad and what the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics mean for the market.

TIFFCOM has set a record again this year for the number of exhibitors, and foreign buyers make up a larger percentage than last year. What is fueling this growth?

We are so happy that the TIFFCOM market is continuing to grow up. Japanese content, TV and film, is so appealing, especially to Asian countries — not only feature films, but also animation.

Chinese buyers are for the first time the biggest foreign contingent at the market, ahead of South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. What's bringing Chinese industry people here?

The relationship between China and Japan now seems very good. There is a political reason. Four or five years ago, the relation wasn’t so good [because of old territorial disputes]. Now [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe is going to China for the first time [to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping]. It’s the first visit in a long time. China still has problems with Korea, and the relation between China and the U.S. is not so good. The second reason is that two years ago animation film Your Name was a hit in China. So now China is trying to find new potential Japanese animation hits.

Is their interest mostly in animation then?
Doraemon is also a hit in China. Japanese animation has had success in China, but [live-action] feature films not yet so far. China has its quota system for films, but now every year the number of Japanese films released in China is increasing. There have been more than 10 films [this year]. But so far there have been no great hits at the box office, but we have the chance now. If some film becomes a great hit in China, probably more Chinese buyers will come to TIFFCOM.  

Do you see much competition for the Tokyo market in the region, such as from Busan or Hong Kong?

I am not so concerned with competitors. We are always cautious of the other markets, such as MIPCOM, which takes place just a week before TIFFCOM. It's OK if Korea and Hong Kong come up, because it means good things for the Asian film industries, and that helps everybody.  

Are Netflix/Amazon and other international video streaming services attending the market?

Amazon and Netflix have come to the markets, and that provides a good opportunity for creators. They are just here as buyers, they don't have booths.   

Do you expect the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and the Rugby World Cup 2019 will have any impact on the market?

It is very important for us. The Olympics are approaching, so Tokyo is changing a lot with new construction. It is so exciting. Everybody is now watching Tokyo. The Ikebukuro area is getting new buildings.  

Next year, the Olympics will be finished when TIFFCOM takes place in October. So next year it is very important for TIFFCOM to be a success. I am now thinking about how we will develop our market. There is a new cinema complex nearby that is scheduled to be completed next year, and we will use it in addition to the current venue for screenings and receptions. In Toshima [the ward of Tokyo that contains Ikebukuro], a new building is also expected to be completed. We will do something to use these new facilities. Next year is so important for us. 

You have something new to offer this year ...

We have a special program with the presentations for the Japan Now section of the Tokyo International Film Festival. Japan Now selected four [teams of] directors and producers to promote and pitch to attendees from abroad. We had not introduced Japanese creators to the buyers and sellers so far. I hope that the films and the creators will be brought overseas.

Could this become a regular event for the market? Or do you have any other ideas or plans for new offerings at the market?

I would like to do that again. Another thing I’m thinking is we should have a gap-finance [where producers get financing secured against a film's unsold territories and rights] market to let creators pitch and get funding.

This year, Japan signed the co-production treaty with China. It’s the first time for the Japanese government to have such a treaty. So now we have a lot of questions from creators, especially in China, and the problem of finance. Finding financing is a duty for markets, so I would like to have a gap-financing market with finance people from overseas and producers. We have a co-production session for Europe, Asia and Japan at the market this year. That is a first step for us.

Why do you think Japanese content is appealing to audiences abroad?

The characters, especially in animation, are cute and quite different from the U.S. They are very special.