Because it offers few world premieres of high-profile films, the Tokyo International Film Festival is not the world’s most significant. European and American festivals get all the good premieres, and South Korea’s Pusan International Film Festival, the region’s best, has a wider selection of Asian premieres and sponsors Asian filmmaking. TIFF’s real value is local, in that it offers Tokyo cinephiles a chance to sample a wide variety of international films that will likely not play in a nearby theater anytime soon, if ever.
That aspect has become pronounced in recent years as more foreign film distributors in Japan shut up shop. In the 1990s, Tokyo was one of the best world cities in which to be a film nut, but not anymore. As proof, two major award-winning British movies that screened at TIFF two years ago, Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky” and Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” still have not been released in Japan, even on DVD.