Globalizing Tokyo's Entertainment Scene: Insights from Bessho Tetsuya

Actor Bessho Tetsuya, who has led the international film event, "Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (SSFF & ASIA)" for 25 years, shares Tokyo's potential in entertainment.
Bessho Tetsuya, an actor juggling fame and the management of an international film festival, at the festival's main venue in Omotesando Hills.

Cultivating a Festival and Launching Filmmakers Worldwide

Beyond his role in acting, Bessho has dedicated his life to another endeavor. He serves as the head of the international short film festival "Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (SSFF & ASIA)," an event he personally manages. In his early thirties, over five years after his debut as an actor, he was fascinated by the short films he encountered in Los Angeles, inspiring him to launch a short film festival in Japan in 1999.

"Within these films that ranged from a brief five minutes to as much as 30 minutes, I sensed an infinite realm of possibilities. I thought that showcasing and honoring the works of young artists from Japan and around the world at a film festival could contribute to their broader recognition and appreciation."

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SSFF & ASIA, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2023. Numerous international filmmakers visited Japan and participated in the festival in Tokyo for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In 2004, in collaboration with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the event established an "Asian International category" and a "Japan category" within the Live-Action Competition, focusing on promoting Asian visual culture and supporting young filmmakers in these regions. It has since grown into Asia's largest international short film festival and has been officially recognized by the Academy Awards. The festival marked its 25th anniversary in 2023, receiving over 5,000 submissions from 120 countries and regions worldwide.

The George Lucas Award (Grand Prix) for 2023 was given to the animated short film The Bridge, produced in Poland by Director Yoshida Izumi (right). This film is also a candidate for the 96th Academy Awards Nominees in 2024.

"Filmmaking approaches have diversified, not just due to technological progress but also as a result of navigating the pandemic," says Bessho. At SSFF & ASIA, a new category for films shot and edited exclusively on smartphones was introduced this year, resulting in 363 submissions from 53 countries.

"While it has been relatively common for film directors and editors to collaborate remotely across different countries for the past decade or so, moving forward, we can anticipate a rise in works that incorporate non-human-involved processes, like short films utilizing AI-generated scripts, for instance."

The Importance of Communicating Tokyo's Unique Value

Bessho, through his interactions with filmmakers from abroad, has consistently felt their keen interest in Japanese film production. In fact, this tied in with his motivation to start the international film festival in the first place.

"People worldwide are curious to understand what we, as Japanese people, consider valuable and amazing. Japanese people often exhibit a certain conformity to what is happening in the world, especially in the West, and pursue such trends for better or for worse. On the other hand, people abroad are more intrigued by the unique values that Japan and Asia have to offer."

"Filmmaking professionals visiting Japan for SSFF & ASIA greatly appreciate the opportunity to immerse themselves in Tokyo's culture," says Bessho. He has many chances to guide such guests to izakaya (casual Japanese restaurants) and shrines.

"While it's wonderful to admire and respect foreign cultures, in filmmaking, it's crucial to express and share what is unique to us, what we genuinely value, and what we find beautiful. That's what I believe," he emphasized.

Starting from 2023, Bessho is now also a Tokyo Tourism Ambassador. "The kanji (Chinese characters) for tourism (kan-ko) literally mean 'see the light.' I think tourism is about seeing something bright and brilliant (like lights) wherever  you're visiting. I think Tokyo has a lot of brilliant things as well, so I'd like to gather and showcase those things through the perspective of stories and films," he shared.

At the Center of an Intellectual Property Nation

As a leader in the film business, Bessho has a dream he truly wishes to fulfill.

"It's often said that there's no other country quite like Japan in terms of its safety, discipline, and high quality. In fact, there's a significant interest from international creators to entrust the rights management of their short films to Japanese firms. It's incredibly valuable that they have such expectations."

In other words, these individuals trust the country to responsibly and securely manage the copyrights and data of their works.

"Maybe we can manage copyrights of films, including sightseeing films, entrusted by filmmakers from around the world. We can also consolidate them as intellectual property, preserve them, and carry them forward to the next generation. There is also a great deal of respect from around the world for many Japanese filmmakers, including Kurosawa Akira, Ozu Yasujiro, and Miyazaki Hayao. The key point is that the management of copyrights shouldn't be just Japanese works, but also works from overseas. I think it would be wonderful if Tokyo could play a central role in the global film industry and pursue such endeavors. It would be fantastic if the city could showcase Japan's advanced position as an intellectual property nation."

Bessho Tetsuya

Actor. Made his Hollywood debut in 1990 with the Japanese-American co-production film Solar Crisis. Since then, he has been actively involved in various areas such as film, television, stage performances, radio, etc. Since 1999, he has led the Japan-based international short film festival, "Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (SSFF & ASIA)," and has also received the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award from the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Appointed as Tokyo Tourism Ambassador 2023.
Short Shorts Film Festival & ASIA
Interview and writing by Makino Yoko
Photos (portraits) by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Amitt