TPG a Hot Ticket for Global Crowd

Strong Southeast Asian Contingent Emerges for Project Market

Varied genres and a team of unlikely pairs sum up this year’s Tokyo Project Gathering, a project market at TIFFCOM to help producers and directors find funds and production partners.

“We had over 120 applications this year, from which we selected 28 projects,” TPG’s Toshiyuki Hasegawa said, “The field was really strong this year, so we increased the number of projects for inclusion.

“The number of meetings arranged for this year is double what we had at this stage last time,” explained Hasegawa. “We’re getting larger companies approaching us, too — we’re not having to chase people.”

A notable market trend this year is directors from outside Asia. Brazilian director Karim Aninouz captures the Japanese dark underworld in “Festival High Tech” a story set in Japan about a young Brazilian-Japanese who ends up at a truck manufacturer affiliated with a yakuza. In “Tempura,” Latvian director Maris Martinsons (“Loss”) ventures into a road movie that will mainly be shot in Spain and Portugal. Japanese-language “Komorebi” is from American director Dave Boyle. It stars Nae Yuki, who appeared in Boyle’s previous “White on Rice.”

A number of emerging directors also are showing new talents in the industry. Dustin Nguyen, a Hollywood-based Vietnamese-American actor, presents “Monk on Fire,” a martial arts flick set in a small village. Both “Pinky Time” by Taiwan director Sean Chen and “The Big Blue Lake” by Hong Kong’s Jessey Tsang are ambitious features targeting distribution in Japan. “Hara Ga Kor Nande” is from Yuya Ishii, who won the Edward Yang New Talent Award at the Asian Film Awards.

Period epics present a colorful lineup from various regions. “Vancouver Asahi” is based on the true story of a Japanese-Canadian baseball team set in 1917. “The Woman Barber” by a Korean writer-director Kim Chung-guk will weave a love story between a Japanese geisha and a Korean man set in 1945 Korea.

“Desert Queen,” a fantasy genre film by Thailand’s Ekachai Uekrongtham (“Beautiful Boxer”), delves into a mysterious encounter between a young Thai woman and a Japanese chef set in the 17th-century Thai Royal Court. “Yellow Earth” tells the tale of captured soldiers who escape a war camp in Cowra, Australia, in 1944.  

A pool of Southeast Asian talents is also present gripping synopses. “Headshot,” a film noir from Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, depicts a hitman shot in the head during an assignment who sees everything upside down. “Camera” by Singaporean director James Leong (“Aki Ra’s Boys”) is the dizzying story of a man trying to capture everything he sees in reality in camera. Vietnamese director Nguyen-Vo Nghiem-Minh’s latest, “Dance of the Executioner,” paints a story of people tangled in a death sentence. “Trans Sumatra” from Indonesian writer-director Nia Dinata presents gender struggle set in contemporary Indonesia.

A number of Japanese producers have hooked up with South Asian partners at this year’s gathering. “The Book Keeper” is a Japan-Malaysia co-production from director Woo Ming Jing and producer Edmund Yeo of “The Tiger Factory.” It screened earlier at Cannes.

This year’s TPG is also a venture into varied genres, with everything from a zombie flick (“Zombie, My Zombie”) to an animal movie (“The Dog Wanted”) based on a true animal-abuse incident in Taiwan.

“The Host 2,” Chungeorahn Film’s sequel to the famed Korean monster flick, will be here with a 3D promo reel. Fantasy animation “Next Intelligence,” from producer Hiroshi Kon, envisions a world taken over by robots. “The Unstoppable Movements of Naked Monkeys” is based on a popular Japanese sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui novel, while “Kingdom of Desire” a mystery thriller from director Xiao Jiang (“Electric Shadow”) delves into a Discovery Channel director who goes missing in India.

A few Korean productions are ready to strike a deal with global partners. “Haunted Obsession” by Eugene Lee, who produced Kim Ji-woon’s “A Bittersweet Life,” delves into an insurance scam. On the drama side, “On Your Journey” looks into an Indonesian migrant to Korea trying to adjust to her new home. “Asian Beauty” (working title) by director Jang Jin (“Murder, Take One”) is about three women from Japan, South Korea and China, who disagrees on everything except fashion.

A number of films by innovative Japanese directors also offer a slice of new Japanese cinema. The director Hiroki Ryuichi (“Vibrator”) better known for his well-made “pink films,” or Japanese soft porn, presents “Seagull Day,” a fantasy fiction. “The War,” from Sakichi Sato (“Ichi the Killer”), depicts a brother recording a murder incident in a film. “New Hello” by Yutaka Tsuchiya describes a strange reunion of a bullied girl and a sex offender.  

“Japanese filmmakers are often focused only on the domestic market, so we try to open their eyes to the possibilities of international markets and co-productions,” said Toru Sakurai, assistant director at TPG. 

The organizers report that international projects selected for TPG are gaining more attention and even public funding in their home countries, a sign of the increasing kudos given to the event. 

Three projects from previous TPGs, “Wandering Home” from Japan and “Zoom Hunting” and “4th Portrait” from Taiwan, are screening at this year’s TIFF.  

The most promising project in TPG will be awarded $25,000 in post production services by Technicolor. The Tokyo Project Gathering starts today at Roppongi Academyhills (40th floor) in Mori Tower, and runs through Thursday.

-- Gavin Blair contributed to this report.