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Director General Yasushi Shiina harbors ambition- “further development to a linchpin for delivering Japanese films to the rest of the world”

Yasushi Shiina_Director_General

©2015 TIFF

“Well, hasn’t it finally started to feel like an international film festival at last.” Director General of the Tokyo International Film Festival, Yasushi Shiina is at the helm for the third year. Until now, he had been pouring his energy into increasing awareness among the rest of the world, but now he projects an image of showing a proactive stance on the firm foundations.
One of the biggest pivotal points has been disseminating information about Japanese films and the establishment of the newly created section “Japan Now” which included unreleased films and also thoroughly covered this year’s hits and most talked-about works, which included a special program of director Masato Harada. The Japanese Cinema Splash competition, focusing on independent films was held as before.
“I have asked all sorts of people beyond this industry what they thought was missing from the Tokyo International Film Festival, and they said it wasn’t just the films, but also the absence of the directors. Japanese creators who are widely accepted in overseas film festivals include Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase at Cannes, and at Venice Shinya Tsukamoto and Sion Sono, so it’s difficult for new and talented Japanese directors to be accepted. To non-Japanese public, we can show some of the works which are selected as one of the representatives of current Japanese films in the festival. We can introduce them that if you come to our festival, you will find distributing agencies and the directors and the actors played in the films. I also have an end goal in mind of packaging this set of current trend of Japanese films/directors/distributors, and bringing them along to foreign film festivals as part of my promotional activity.”
The fact that three Japanese films were selected in the competition: FOUJITA, The Inerasable, and Sayonara, which is a symbolic phenomena. In addition, he has also tried enriching this year’s festival even more with anime, a powerful contribution from Japan which he has shown as his particularity since his appointment, which includes the special program –Mobile Suit Gundam, following on from director Hideaki Anno of last year.
“We received a good response. Planning the film organization flow from Evangelion to Gundam following last year was the correct decision to do, so next year, I’m also planning to make another solid special program. The idea which currently have in mind for next year is to add two new sections -Live action and an Animated films within Japan Now section. I plan to do something like this.”
We moved the sub-venue from last year’s Nihonbashi to Shinjuku. There were screenings at Shinjuku Piccadilly and Shinjuku WALD9, which have the largest and second largest number of film audiences respectively in the country, and TOHO CINEMAS Shinjuku which opened in April this year. It was held in conjunction with the Grand Shinjuku City Festival hosted by Shinjuku ward, but there were only two screens for our festival at each theater, obviously it was lacking in the film festival’s atmosphere.
“With having a challenging spirit of wanting to host at the hottest location among movie-goers, we discussed it with the Shinjuku commercial shopping district, and they said “Please come and make use of our area by all means”. The head of Shinjuku ward even welcomed us and they have changed the timing of the Grand Shinjuku City Festival to be held at the same time as the film festival, but in reality, as you say, it felt scattered. How we progress from here to the future is a significant challenge. For the screenings, we want the festival to be integrated, and ideally, we should use all the screens available even if it’s just one at the theater. We should be aiming for something which includes the whole urban environment in the area too, like in Minato ward (Roppongi). Reaching out to the fans that come to Shinjuku, balancing both Roppongi and Shinjuku would be my ideal.”
Even at this state of the Tokyo International Festival, there has been a definite increase in overseas interest, and the number of registrations for the foreign press has been increased from 789 last year to 820. It seems like this number should be expected to increase in an upwards curve as we are heading towards the 30th festival in 2 years’ time, and along with the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. He says in his personal goal feeling that he has achieved a “60%” this year, which is only 10% more than last year’s for this year’s festival, his reflecting comment stays severe as always.
“Considering this year’s festival’s overall performances, grades A and C are still not ‘F’ in score however, there is a lot that still needs to be done. It doesn’t seem to be right to think of the level of awareness and familiarity after 30 years, but it’s much less in comparison to other film festivals, so how to raise it is a definite issue. We haven’t yet reached to an international standard, which means, we have been able to achieve all sorts of things in 3 years and at this stage, we have now come to understand further problems. One Japanese director said to me ‘Have you changed something? Everyone’s saying it’s become much better.’ I answered as it’s because this year, the spotlight had been put on Japanese directors (laughs). It might be difficult to bring it to 70 or 80 films next year, but if we don’t continue, we’ll end up going backwards as before. To bring the level up to the standard from scratch, with obtaining government support, is surely going to be a considerably difficult road for us.”
His words indicate rough going ahead, but he was not pessimistic. Shiina was full of ambition, looking more than one move ahead or even focusing on two or three moves ahead.

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KEIRIN.JPThe 28th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
27th Tokyo International Film Festival(2014)