Tokyo Film Festival Aims to Boost Global Relevance With Bumper 2023 Edition

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The Tokyo International Film Festival undertook a series of bold changes in 2020 to enhance its international reach, including a location change and major shakeups across staffing and programming. For the global film community, however, much of the overhaul went unfelt due to the travel restrictions of the pandemic. The Tokyo festival’s chairman, Hiroyasu Ando, emphasized at a press conference in the Japanese capital Wednesday that the event “aims to take a bigger leap” this year with its upcoming 36th edition, making good on its ambitions for a transformation.

“We’re really focussing on international interaction,” Ando said, noting that the festival would welcome some 600 overseas guests this year, including filmmakers, jury members and industry professionals, a major uptick from the 104 international industry VIPs who attended in 2022.

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The Tokyo International Film Festival will open Oct. 23 with a gala screening of acclaimed German auteur Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-set drama Perfect Days, which has been selected by Japan as its official entry to the Oscars for the best international film race. Perfect Days‘ star, local screen legend Koji Yakusho, won Cannes’ best actor award for his performance in the film. Wenders will also serve as the head of Tokyo’s main competition jury this year.

Tokyo’s 15-title competition selection features a diverse mix of filmmaking with an intentional emphasis on Asia, Ando said. Three films from Japan — Tomina Tetsuya’s existential romance Who Were We?, Kishi Yoshiyuki’s drama (Ab)normal Desire, and Kotsuji Yohei’s slow-burn realist drama A Foggy Paradise — are matched by three features from China (last year, there were no competition films from China), including Snow Leopard, the final film from the celebrated Tibetan auteur Pema Tseden, who died in May. Other highlights include Russian director Alexey German Jr.’s war drama Air; Israeli sports drama Tatami; and Maryam Keshavarz’s U.S. film The Persian Version, a comedy-drama about an Iranian woman’s family life in New York.

The festival’s gala section is packed with crowdpleasers, including Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice Golden Lion winner Poor Things, Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things (winner of best director at Cannes), Taika Waititi’s soccer comedy Next Goal Wins, Chinese blockbusters Full River Red and The Movie Emperor, and Japanese kaiju flick Godzilla Minus One, which has been set as the festival closer. The Japanese titles in the gala make for a roster of familiar local auteurs: Shinya Tsukamoto with Shadow of Fire, Takashi Miike’s Lumberjack the Monster, Takeshi Kitano’s Kubi and Shusuke Kaneko with Gold Boy.

Veteran Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is again assisting the festival by programming and hosting the Asia Lounge talk series, which this year will feature discussions with directors Zhang Yimou, Tran Anh Hung, Yoji Yamada, Gu Xiaogang, Mouly Surya and Yang Yonghi. Hong Kong screen legend Tony Leung will also give a masterclass.

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of the classic Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. To mark the occasion, the festival is screening a huge collection of restored Ozu classics — 33 titles altogether — and hosting a panel discussion about the filmmaker’s ongoing influence. Wenders will introduce the talk, featuring commentary from three other esteemed directors: Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata), Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin) and Kelly Reichardt (First Cow).

The World Focus section balances contemporary international features against a selection of restored classics drawn from other sidebars. Highlights from recent festivals are Frederick Wiseman’s Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros; Ira Sach’s Passages; Pedro Almovodar’s Strange Way of Life, Lav Diaz’s Essential Truths of the Lake and two additional titles from Wenders — his new 3D documentary Anselm, about the great German sculptor and painter Anselm Kiefer; and the world premiere of his short film, Somebody Comes Into the Light, starring Japanese dancer Min Tanaka.

Other sections include the recently renamed Nippon Cinema Now strand, devoted to contemporary Japanese filmmaking (including the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus, which premiered to acclaim in Venice); a newly internationalized animation program; a selection of films honoring the 100-year anniversary of Italian master Franco Zeffirelli; a Basque cinema showcase; and selections of contemporary Taiwanese and Hong Kong films.

2023 Tokyo International Film Festival’s competition section

(Ab)normal Desire, Kishi Yoshiyuki (Japan)

Air, Alexey German Jr. (Russia)

Blind at Heart, Barbara Albert (Germany/Switzerland/Luxembourg)

Dwelling by the West Lake, Gu Xiaogang (China)

A Foggy Paradise, Kotsuji Yohei (Japan)

Gondola, Veit Helmer (Germany/Georgia)

The Gospel of the Beast, Sheron Dayoc (The Philippines)

A Long Shot, Gao Peng (China)

The Persian Version, Maryam Keshavarz (USA)

Roxana, Parviz Shahbazi (Iran)

Sermon to the Birds, Hilal Baydarov (Azerbaijan)

The Settlers, Felipe Gálvez (Chile/Argentina/Netherlands)

Snow Leopard, Pema Tseden (China)

Tatami, Zar Amir, Guy Nattiv (Georgia/USA)

Who Were We?, Tomina Tetsuya (Japan)

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