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Tokyo Film Festival Rebounds After Navigating Current Affairs Obstacle Course, Says Ichiyama Shozo: ‘China’s Revival Happened at the Right Time for Us’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Patrick Frater Asia Bureau Chief Ichiyama Shozo assumed control of the program of the Tokyo International Film Festival after a long programming career that included Tokyo and the slightly more indie Tokyo Filmex events. He is also a regular producing partner of Chinese art-house darling Jai Zhangke. These influences have shaped his approach to this year’s Tokyo IFF lineup, he told Variety.

The 2023 autumn festivals all seem to have strong line-ups. And Tokyo is no exception. What is your understanding of the reasons for that? This year we received many more entries than previous years.

I don’t know the reason, but I feel the film production situation worldwide has come back to the level before the pandemic. What were your guidelines and criteria for selection this time around?
I feel many talented filmmakers are struggling with various social problems surrounding their countries. Most of the competition films are dealing with such subjects.

Which films in Tokyo are you most passionate about? What did you choose to omit?
I tried to select those films which challenge in some way. One example is Gu Xiaogang’s “Dwelling by the East Lake.” After the success of his first film, “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountain,” he changed his directing style as well as the subject. I think it’s brave to do this, and Gu succeeded.

The 2023 Tokyo lineup includes many Chinese films, including world premieres. How do you assess the current state of the Chinese film industry? Its connections with the rest of the world (which seemed curtailed during 2020-2022)? Last year, I learned that so many film productions had been stopped or postponed because of the censorship situation in China. But this year, many strong Chinese films came out, and as a result I selected three Chinese films for competition.

Last year we had none. My understanding is that there has been some change in censorship in China. I’m also impressed that many talented young filmmakers emerged this year.