TIFFCOM Poised to Be More International, More Relevant, Says Market Chief Shiina Yasushi (EXCLUSIVE)

TIFFCOM, the film market attached to the Tokyo International Film Festival, is set to be more international and more diverse in its first full comeback year after the COVID hiatus. It should also be more pleasant and convenient, having re-located to a more modern venue that is close to the film festival.

“Bringing the in-person market back after four years, my priority was to make sure that TIFFCOM could happen during the festival, not some other time,” said Shiina Yasushi, who has headed the market for ten years. “That meant juggling dates, venue choices and budget.” Tokyo’s limited selection of appropriate venues came with other complications such as being in areas with expensive hotels or difficult transport options.

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The new venue at the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Trade Center in Hamamatsucho, on paper seems ideal. It is a newer building than the old market building in Ikkebukuro, is closer to the new festival venues in the Hibiya-Ginza area and is government- owned. “The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said they wanted to help.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, while foreign visitor registrations have bounced back to pre-COVID levels, the number of Japanese exhibitors is lower. Shiina says that may reflect a slower exhibitor-subsidy cycle within the Ministry of Trade and Industry (METI). Counterbalancing that, the weak Japanese currency has made the country cheaper for many inbound visitors. “Where once the mix was 60-40 in favor of Japanese, this year looks a lot closer to 50-50,” said Shiina.

Those that do come can get a taste of the new Story Market, which launched this year, and specifically focuses on book-to-screen adaptation. The exhibitors are likely to be narrowly focused around Japan’s big four comic book publishers (Kadokawa, Kodansha, Shueisha and Shogakukan), with smaller publishing houses adopting a wait and see approach. But Shiina says that the event still offers key advantages. “Unlike participation at overseas markets, where only sales staff are present, we see that by holding the story market in Tokyo we can also involve editors, publishers and authors. Secondly, this helps differentiate TIFFCOM from other markets. The key words of this event are ‘Japan,’ ‘Manga’ and ‘comic’s’.”

The project market – the fourth to be held under the Tokyo Gap Financing Market banner, but the first to be held as an in-person event – claims a similar logic. “We have tried to make the TGFM reflect Asian taste while also ensuring that we have relevant international investors,” said Shiina. The largest contingents on the buying or finance side hail from France, Italy and China. In total the TGFM hosts 15 development projects, with four locally-sourced from Japan.

These include the latest efforts from Yukihiko Tsutsumi, who directed “20th Century Boys” and “Trick”; Shiraishi Kazuya, director of “The Blood of Wolves” and “Sea of Revival”; Daigo Matsui, known for smashing the genre with his diverse array of contributions; and Junya Okabe with the live-action version of “Getter Robo.”

Shiina’s hypothesis of why companies and projects choose to operate from TIFFCOM reflect multiple Japanese and Asian film industry trends.

“Chinese films are dominant in their home market, but not overseas. Chinese companies may be feeling that dependence on one market is not healthy [and so looking for overseas opportunities],” said Shiina.

Japanese companies face a different set of circumstances. Film production budgets in Japan are already small, but now ancillary markets are shrinking, causing players to look overseas for finance.

“We [in Japan] don’t always have the experience or know-how for that, but markets are a good place to make connections. And among the better-established players, like those Japanese in the TGFM, they may not need overseas finance, but may be looking to find good quality partners who can help them better reach out into international territories.

The growing Japanese interest in international co-productions may also be a generational theme. “[‘Drive My Car’ director] Hamaguchi Ryusuke is leading by example,” said Shiina.

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