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Toshiyuki Hasegawa: Mixing Business With Pleasure

Hasegawa Toshiyuki means business. In the sense of being completely earnest in what he says or does, the description is certainly appropriate. However, sitting in a small cafe in Shimbashi where the first floor of a Bauhaus-esque office building has been converted into a shoutengai (a shop area) full of cozy eateries and pubs, and listening to him talk about goals he aspires to achieve, one can also perceive a penchant for seeing how connections between people can lead to opportunities. With regard to the vast landscape of the international film industry, his “people-centric” brand of business savvy is a welcome breeze in the otherwise stuffy confines of Japan’s all too self-congratulatory, sales-figures and awards fixated film industry.

A graduate of Nihon University’s College of Art where he studied broadcasting, Hasegawa’s love of movies was born at an early age. One would imagine the titles which captured his interest during those formative years were more children’s fare like the Pippy Longstocking series, or Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Ballon, but this certainly wasn’t the case for Hasegawa. “Yes, my passion to films started quite early. My dad brought me to the screening of Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games) when I was five or six. I really remember I couldn’t read most of the subtitles, but I cried at the ending scene. Since then I have kept on watching films….” The impact seemed long lasting as he made filmmaking his ambition. “At university I wanted to study creating and analyzing visual works,” he says continuing. “In 1997 I studied in the United States on an exchange program. I took all kinds of film classes there, too. So I had always wanted to work in the film industry. I just shifted my direction from production to distribution when I was a freshman at college. I totally understood I had no talent for filmmaking!” Making that shift is worthy of note. Too many business people believe they can enter the creative fields and run things as a normal business; the Hollywood studios are rife with them. However, individuals with both a creative sense and a head for business are few and far between. Hasegawa’s realization he could stay within the realm of cinema yet apply himself in another area demonstrates a love of movies which has continued to define his choices.

So I had always wanted to work in the film industry. I just shifted my direction from production to distribution when I was a freshman at college. I totally understood I had no talent for filmmaking!

First stepping into the industry in 1999 with a position at Toei’s international sales department, he moved on to become manager of J-Pitch, an international co-production venture at UNIJAPAN, a non-profit organization run under the auspices of the Japanese government. A few years later, he became the director of TIFFCOM’s (the film market held in conjunction with the Tokyo International Film Festival) Tokyo Project Gathering (TPG) project development market. J-Pitch was initiated to cultivate producers, teach them the ins-and-outs of foreign film industry practices, and assist them in developing properties with international co-production potential. TPG’s goal was to attract prospective producers and investors to film projects in need of development, production, and/or finishing funds; in other words, matching the film projects to people who can help get them made. His duties for both ventures put him in touch with filmmakers and, more importantly, established industry figures and initiatives at an international level which expanded his global perspective. When asked about the international competitiveness of Japanese movies, he replied: “Very, very difficult question. The system has to be changed. The international market is losing interest in Japanese films, but we keep doing the same thing all the time! It has proven not to work, but why do we continue?” Perhaps this is in reference to the types of movies Japan tries to sell overseas or programs such as Cool Japan which has recently been criticized for often holding parties and pavilions with little focus at international events. “Maybe we should “settai” (to “wine and dine”) Mr. Thierry Fremaux (director of Cannes International Film Festival), Mr. Dieter Koslik (director of Berlin International Film Festival), or Mr. Vincent Maraval (International Sales Director at Wild Bunch). Well, [that’s] not very realistic, but still we have to establish [closer] relationships with key international people! Unfortunately we do not have a strong connection with them at this moment, I think.”


Ishizaka Yuri and Shibuya Asami in Antonym ©Natsuka Kusano

Both positions were certainly well-suited to and most likely developed further that “people-centric” business savvy mentioned before, but by 2011 he decided to make a change and became the head of programming at SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival. Launched in 2004, the SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival [SKIP hereafter] focuses solely on works shot and produced digitally with the objective of discovering a new generation of filmmakers. Its namesake comes from the venue at Saitama Prefecture’s Saitama Kawaguchi Intelligent Park City industrial hub. Alumni of the festival include 2007 Feature-length Grand Prize winner Climates director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who went on to win three consecutive awards at Cannes, and The Devil’s Path director Shiraishi Kazuya, winner of the SKIP City Award in 2009. “My job was more administrative within the programming division. But I watch all the recommended films by our pre-selection members” he says about the side benefit of taking on a festival staff position, “so discovering great films is always fun!” However, SKIP is one of an ever growing number of film festivals in Japan, let alone the world, so how does it distinguish itself ?
“SKIP supports the distribution side of festival-screened movies both domestically and internationally,” he explains. “Many film festivals have scholarships for directors’ next projects. Even SKIP gives out the ‘SKIP City Award’ to one feature-length Japanese movie and offers support toward [its] post-production, but not many festivals support the distribution end. It’s really important, however, I feel more important than support for the production since digital filmmaking has reduced the cost of filmmaking resulting in the number of self-financed (independent) films increasing.”

I love helping my director friend Sakaguchi Katsumi with some editing advice, but I’m scared to collect and spend such large amounts of money for filmmaking. That’s too much stress for me!

Naturally, the conversation turned to some of the means smaller budget productions were already getting support or made. For example, 2014 Best Director and SKIP City Award winner Antonym and 2013 Special Jury Prize Winner Kanagawa University of Fine Arts, Office of Film Research, are, respectively, a movie made through a grant from the Cineastes Organization Osaka (CO2) workshop and a graduate student work from the Tokyo University of Arts Graduate Film School. Hasegawa offered his thoughts on where such film schools and workshops could put their focus in terms of international viability: “Japanese fairness sometimes ruins the chance of a film’s international recognition. Those schools and workshops produce [a number of] films, but maybe they should focus on the best film among them and try to push it to international festivals or buyers,” he says. “Of course, they have to be handled by people who have international connections, too. So the weakness of Japanese films in the international market is also due in part to the lack of good brokers probably….”
And a broker is what he, himself, became when he helped broker a distribution deal with Fortissimo Films for 2012 Best Director award winner Capturing Dad. Because of the connections he had been building through his people skills, the deal occured rather organically. As he recalls, “At the jury meeting of the 2012 festival, one jurist, a Korean producer, proposed I contact Fortissimo Films about Capturing Dad because she thought Mr. Michael Werner, chairman of Fortissimo Films, would love the film. So I contacted a friend who was working for Fortissimo. I doubted anything would come of it after sending a DVD of the film, but I received a reply quite soon. It took 2½ months to close the deal, but it was a great experience for me. I’d love to introduce other films screened at the festival internationally. The international market is tough but more open to independent filmmakers.” Yet despite his early dreams of being on the creative side, his continued exposure to film treatments looking for funding, and meeting other like-minded people from various parts of the world, the idea of stepping into the role of producer is still daunting for him. “I love helping my director friend Sakaguchi Katsumi with some editing advice, but I’m scared to collect and spend such large amounts of money for filmmaking. That’s too much stress for me!” he says smiling.


Award winners of the 2016 festival © SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL

In 2017, Hasegawa changed from being the director of programming to the programming director. They’re similar sounding titles, but if the former was an administrative role, the latter should be somewhat artistic, as in the artistic direction of the festival. Is there anything he’d like to change or add to the kind of lineup SKIP will present moving forward? “I can’t choose movies without approval from the Festival Director and programmers. However, I can recommend movies and special programs,” he replies. “I really don’t want to change the format of SKIP. Japanese filmmakers competing with international filmmakers is the best way to shine a spotlight on Japanese filmmakers and it’s also good way for participating Japanese filmmakers to understand the level of movies the world’s filmmakers are making early in their career. But it is also a film festival for the audience, so I want to attract them with great international titles. Anyway, I think my job will be to just try and improve the level of movies.”

Recall how Hasegawa shifted from a focus on production to distribution during university. At SKIP, he has found himself at a place which emphasizes supporting the distribution of movies; that promotes discovery. There, he can not only connect with more people, but also connect people with cinema. One could say Hasegawa has found “where he belongs.” Furthermore, he mentioned something interesting in passing: “All elementary and middle-school students have to take media literacy courses in Kawaguchi City (Saitama Prefecture). As it happened with me, sometimes children have an experience that shapes what they want to be in the future. I want more kids to find out how great movies are.” Under Hasegawa, perhaps SKIP will engender the next generation of movie-loving industry professionals, though he might say he’s just doing what he loves.

For more information on the SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival, please visit their website here. And make sure to peruse their archives for information on past festivals, including archived websites where you can find the complete lineup of films for each year.

Hasegawa Toshiyuki’s Top 3 Recommended Japanese Movies from SKIP City International D-Cinema Festival

Strike Out in Love
2013 / 114 min. / HDCAM / Color / Japanese w. English subtitles

“My favorite! Absolutely original story, and unique quirky sense of humor!”

Dumped by the same man, Tamami and Juno set out to visit well-known spiritual spots to turn their fortunes around. During the trip, they meet Ichinose, a writer of romance novels and they embark on a “love affair” of sorts, which eventually puts them in a peculiar situation.
Director: Matsumura Shingo
Cast: Nakamura Haruna, Ota Junko, Tsuchiya Yuki, Yamamoto Yume, Yabumoto Satoshi, Fukahori Eri, Komaki, Ishii Reimi
Capturing Dad
2012 / 74 min. / HDCAM / Color / Japanese w. English subtitles

“Of course! It was picked up by Fortissimo Films even though it’s a small independent film by an unknown, first-time feature film director. The story is universal and direction is precise.”

Sawa asks her two daughters, Hazuki and Koharu, to visit their dying father whom she divorced long time ago. She wants them to take a picture of his face on his death bed and brings it back. Two daughters depart to visit their father they hardly remember.
Director: Nakano Ryota
Cast: Watanabe Makiko, Yanagi Erisa, Matsubara Nanoka, Takito Kenichi, Nikaido Satoshi, Kobayashi Kaito, Imamura Yuki, Hoshino Akiko
Dream Notebook
2012 / 25 min. / HDCAM / Color / Japanese w. English subtitles

“I was amazed with this musical short film. Kakukawa-san is an actor in musicals and that’s why he is very sensitive toward the scenes with singing. The heroine lost her sense of hearing but wants to sing; very intriguing (unreal maybe, hahaha!) character setting!”

Yukika has lost her hearing and given up her dream of becoming a singer. Kaito hasn’t found what he wants to do with his life. Two wandering kind meet and thei r subtle change of emotions are expressed with colorful tunes in this musical.
Director: Kakukawa Hiroaki
Cast: Ray, Aso Yusaku  (from Kissaquo), Nous-Rion, Looth (from Roundsville), Igarashi Yamato, Ozaki Ryushiro, Kobayashi Sayaka, Muto Junko