Globalizing Tokyo's Entertainment Scene: Insights from Bessho Tetsuya
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."
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.
"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."
"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."
*Now accepting submissions for the 2024 event.
Photos (portraits) by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Amitt