Tokyo fest wants presence for its birthday


TOKYO -- By tradition, the Japanese celebrate Coming of Age Day when they turn 20, marking the rite of passage from brash upstart to respected member of the community. So it is with the Tokyo International Film Festival, which will mark its 20th birthday when it begins its nine-day run Oct. 20.

With the international film festival calendar becoming increasingly congested -- TIFF kicks off just days after the final curtain falls on the event in Bucheon, South Korea, and the RomaCinemaFest overlaps with Tokyo this year -- organizers here know they can't afford to rest if they want their celebration of the moving image to remain a key date.

Which is why they're planning to increase the number of movies screened, add two new sections and take TIFF 2007 where no other film festival has gone: cyberspace.

"This festival is a center of Asian movies, and this year marks a new step forward for us," festival chairman Tsuguhiko Kadokawa said. "I joined the festival as chairman in its 16th year, and in the years since then we have seen some major changes.

"The event has moved to the dedicated cinema complex in Roppongi, we have started the film market, introduced the red carpet, increased the scale of the event and our budget has tripled," he pointed out. "We have made good progress."

A year ago, the festival screened 343 films, up from 286 in 2005, and attracted more than 300,000 people.

As was the case last year, a panel of six will make up the jury for the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix. Last year, the top award went to French director Michel Hazanavicius for "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies."

"We're going to make it bigger than last year in all aspects," said Yutaka Okawa, vice secretary general of TIFF 2007. "We are making the Roppongi Hills venue larger and will be providing extra space for booths at the TIFFCOM entertainment market.

"We're hoping to make the entire festival more visible globally," he said. "On the first day, for example, we're going to raise the profile of the red-carpet event, but we're also emphasizing that TIFF is just one part of a larger event."

The Japan International Contents Festival -- or CoFesta -- will encompass 40 days of entertainment-related events, including the Tokyo Game Show, the Japan Animation Contents Meeting and the Tokyo Asia Music Market.

Directly under the TIFF umbrella are the TIFFCOM market, set to run Oct. 22-24; the eight-day Akihabara Entertainment Festival, which begins Oct. 20; and the Tokyo Contents Market, which runs for three days beginning Oct. 25.

Last year's TIFFCOM attracted 131 companies, and the aim is to turn it into the largest content market in Asia, acting as a bridge to the rest of the world for entertainment that ranges from live-action films to music, animated programming, games and television content. It also will include the Tokyo Project Gathering, designed to arrange financing and find co-production partners and set up presales and distributors for film proposals. Event director Hiroaki Uchiyama has set a target of 50 foreign and domestic projects taking part.

Akihabara again will focus on anime, manga and games-related events.

Yoshi Yatabe, director of the festival's programming division, is particularly excited about the addition of two new sections to TIFF 2007: World Cinema and a retrospective screening of films that have Tokyo as their setting.

"We already have the Winds of Asia category for Asian films, but the only way for films from other parts of the world to be screened in Tokyo is for them to take part in the competition," Yatabe said. "This new section -- World Cinema -- is important to us, and we hope to have up to 15 films taking part.

"We are going to choose films that do not yet have a Japanese distributor, and we think that will make them popular with a Japanese audience," he said.

About 50 films will be shown as part of the retrospective, with titles likely to include "Sans Soleil" and "Solaris."

A new initiative, CyberTIFF, aims to have as much of the festival accessible via the Internet, including on-demand interviews with celebrities, actors and the judges, as well as many films -- though it might not be possible to screen titles taking part in the Grand Prix.

The hope is to make TIFF the first global movie festival.

"We will use Japan's skills in information technology to send Japanese content out to the rest of the world," Kadokawa said. "We will make ours a new type of festival, and CyberTIFF will become its symbol. We want to take it from an ordinary film festival into a virtual space event."

Tokyo survival guide

Nothing moves slowly in Tokyo, not even the skyline. No sooner has one new building imposed its profile on the city than another one comes down and the cycle begins again. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than Roppongi, the entertainment district of the frenetic and fascinating Japanese capital, which again will host this year's Tokyo International Film Festival.

In the months since the 18th TIFF opened at the Roppongi Hills complex, the Tokyo Midtown project has opened nearby. Countless other new drinking, dining, shopping, entertainment and hotel facilities have opened in the same period, meaning that it's almost like returning to a new city every year.

More than 35 million people live in the metropolitan district of Tokyo, meaning subways are crowded, but politeness means that commuters rarely complain about the crush. It's a user-friendly city, with public transport signs in English as well as Japanese -- and you are guaranteed to have someone approach you and offer to help if you're looking a little bewildered.

The center of Japanese politics and business, Tokyo also is the home of the Imperial Family. Founded by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as Edo in 1603, the city became Tokyo -- which literally means Eastern capital -- in 1869, when the Emperor Meiji moved here from Kyoto. The city has risen from the ashes twice, once after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and again after the bombings of World War II, and prides itself on its modernity.

The weather in October should be perfect for TIFF; days should be warm and sunny, though visitors will probably need a jacket to go out in the evening.

One must-see evening destination would be Ginza, the swanky street of all the biggest names in fashion, jewelry and style, with a maze of smaller streets off the main boulevard crammed with hip restaurants and bars. A few blocks to the east is Tsukiji, the far more down-to-earth sushi market, where the dealers haggle over huge tuna as the sun is rising.

The newest addition to Tokyo's accommodations is the Peninsula, which opens its doors in the Marunouchi district Sept. 1 and commands a stunning view over the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Eating opportunities are endless, but it would be close to a sin to come all the way to Tokyo and not at least try sushi. As well as in the little restaurants around Tsukiji, Isago Sushi in Roppongi serves fine fresh fish. For something different, visit Toshio Tanahashi at his shojin ryori restaurant Gesshinkyo. Tanahashi learned his culinary skills in a nunnery in the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture and only uses vegetables and fruit in his dishes. More like a temple than a restaurant, Gesshinkyo has no menu, and the diner leaves the meal in the hands of the chef, who creates 10 courses with ingredients that change with the seasons.

For a change of pace, try a rather more bawdy izakaya, or tavern. Among the best in Tokyo is Shinhinomoto -- though it is better known as Andy's, after its English proprietor. He remains true to the Japanese traditions of good beer and a wide variety of plates, however, including sashimi, salads and a range of fish.

If your schedule is full of screenings and parties and there is only time to visit one temple, make it Meiji Jingu, close to Harajuku Station. Dedicated to the souls of the Meiji emperor and his wife, the original shrine was completed in 1920 and consists of the inner precincts and the 175 acres of gardens and forests, truly an oasis of peace in a city that is constantly on the go.