Tokyo Film Fest: 4 Must-Attend Reasons

Issue 35 BKLOT Tokyo - H 2013
Jose Fusta Ragan/Corbis

Issue 35 BKLOT Tokyo - H 2013

Japan's capital is brimming with optimism thanks to a rebounding economy and the 2020 Summer Olympics. Come for its relevance, but stay through the fest for the edgy films, incredible and unique city vibe, fabulous food and "omotenashi" — a sense of service that goes above and beyond.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

Having celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012, the Tokyo International Film Festival already has established itself as a major force in Asia and, under a new director, is seeking to carve a more distinct niche in the crowded global festival circuit. With widespread optimism that Japan's economy is re-igniting after years of stagnation, and Tokyo recently granted the 2020 Olympics, the megalopolis is buzzing again just in time for the festival. Here's why Tokyo is where it's at.

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The festival kicks off with Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass' Somali piracy drama starring Tom Hanks (both will be in attendance), at the gala opening and finishes eight days later with local director Koki Mitani's vivid samurai epic The Kiyosu Conference. In between, about 140 films, selected from more than 1,400 entries, will be shown at the Roppongi Hills complex, plus market screenings at TIFFCOM. "If I had to pick a theme for this year, it would be 'resistance,' people fighting against governments and rules," says fest programmer Yoshi Yatabe. "Art house cinema is struggling, and festival programmers have to fight to allow them to keep making that type of film."


The greater Tokyo area is home to more than 37 million people, the biggest concentration of humanity on the planet. And despite, or perhaps because of, the vast numbers of people and having five different central districts, the city runs like clockwork and is incredibly safe. "Tokyo is a very sophisticated city where 400 years of tradition and culture uniquely coexist with cutting-edge technologies," says Tomomi Shigematsu from Location Box Tokyo, the Metropolitan Government's service to facilitate shoots in the city. "Filming in Tokyo brings a real touch and unique quality to the screen that cameras can't capture on a studio set."


Tokyo has more Michelin stars than London, Paris and New York combined. But the beauty of eating out in Japan is that there's no need to go high-end to get great food -- it is difficult to find a bad meal at any one of Tokyo's 160,000 eateries. Be it one of the numerous local styles or an imported cuisine, perhaps nowhere is Japanese perfectionism expressed more clearly than in food preparation and presentation. Get out there and try something new on the culinary front, and with a little sense of adventure, the odds you'll be disappointed are slim.


The term for the Japanese concept of hospitality and service recently has become a buzzword again since it was used by TV presenter and Olympic ambassador Christel Takigawa in Tokyo's final bid presentation for the 2020 Games. But top-notch service never has been out of fashion in Japan. From cab drivers and waiters who often refuse to accept tips -- yes, you read that correctly -- to shop staff who bow and apologize profusely if they don't stock what you're after (even if you're actually in the wrong type of store), it's just on another level. The biggest problem might be readjusting when returning home.