TIFF's Tom Yoda Relieved to Leave 'Cove' Controversy Behind


Tom Yoda, chairman of the Tokyo International Film Festival, recently agreed to an extension to his chairmanship for another two years. The 70-year-old Yoda has extensive business interests in the entertainments world outside the festival, but his energy and drive are showing no signs of diminishing. He recently sat down with THR Japan correspondent Gavin J. Blair to discuss his legacy as TIFF chairman, this year's crop of films and his goals for the festival going forward.

The Hollywood Reporter: Your theme for the first three years of your chairmanship was "Hop, Step, Jump." What's next?

Tom Yoda: "Flying high forever" [laughs] No, I need to think of a new slogan.

THR: Why did you choose to carry on for another two years?

Yoda: Well, over the last two years and three TIFFs, we've achieved my initial targets, but the requests from the industry [to carry on] and my ambitions, are kind of matching. So I agreed to another two years, but that's it, no more extensions.

THR: You said you've achieved most of the things you set out to?

Yoda: I shouldn't say achieved, but the mission has been largely accomplished. The film line-up isn't there yet; though the opening and closing are very strong. So far so good I guess. In order for us to jump really high, we need a lot of wind, and the wind for us is films.

THR: What's the most satisfying thing you've achieved in the three TIFFs so far?

Yoda: The recognition of our theme of ecology and sustainability for the future, as a messenger, seems to have been accepted by the Japanese public and society. The identity of the festival is now well aligned with those concepts, and accepted not just by the audiences but also by sponsors and the government.

THR: Is there anything you haven't achieved yet with TIFF that you want to?

Yoda: Contributing more to the Japanese and Asian film industry. Promoting more Japanese films abroad, which depends a lot on TIFFCOM, which is growing; exhibitors so far are at 222, up 4% on last year, including 40 new companies from overseas and 14 new domestic exhibitors. We're also planning to have more entertainment and events outside in the Roppongi Hills Arena to make it more of a festival atmosphere, with food stalls and music. We are also arranging to have more late evening events, too.

THR: How do you stay motivated yourself? You have many other business interests.

Yoda: Yes, I think I'm working harder now than at any time in my life, now in my sunset period. My health is good, even though I get tired, but if I get enough sleep and behave, I'm OK. So I think I can maintain this for another two years and still have some capacity left to enjoy my life afterward, until I'm 90 years old. Even though I'm very busy, I'm not really driven by making money, I do want to contribute to the industry and society -- maybe that's what keeps me going.

THR: What legacy would you like to leave as chairman of TIFF?

Yoda: Now TIFF is landing in the corner of the arena of the world's biggest film festivals, we don't have to be number one, but in that arena. And to provide opportunities to young up-and-coming creators; that would be my legacy I guess.

THR: Apart from the opening and closing, are there any other films you're excited about?

Yoda: As chairman, I'm not supposed to mention particular films, but (competition entry) "Post Card" by Kaneto Shindo, a 98-year-old director, this is very impressive to me. I saw "Caterpillar" this year, which is set in the same period, WWII, but a totally different approach.

THR: What do you think of the current state of the Japanese cinema industry?

Yoda: The number of 3D screens is going to be 700, which I think is very quick penetration. I hope 3D enjoys healthy growth but also that the size of the audience will also increase, not just boxoffice. [Japanese boxoffice revenues have grown off premium 3D tickets, while audiences have fallen slightly.

THR: You have no big controversy this year like "The Cove" last year; will the festival be quieter and calmer this year?

Yoda: I am very busy this year with other things, so if something like that happens this year it will kill me [laughs.]