Developing New Talents in the Film Industry

Talents Tokyo [Part 1] Asagi Kimura

Artists’ Survival Methods

Asagi Kimura, recipient of the Talents Tokyo Award 2021, at the Athénée Français Cultural Center

Talents Tokyo is a program for young people in the Asian region to develop filmmakers and producers organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture), and the Talents Tokyo Organizing Committee. It is a workshop for participants to polish their own projects and acquire skills so they can be active on the world stage. In line with a call for participants (from May 1-31) for the 2022 year, we interviewed Asagi Kimura, winner of the Talents Tokyo Award 2021, to talk about her experience under Talents Tokyo. Part two features Kaori Oda, a finisher of the program in 2015, whose documentary films Aragane (2015) and Cenote (2017) are gaining recognition both in Japan and abroad.


Knowledge, experience truly useful for aspiring filmmakers and producers

Talents Tokyo is the Asian edition of Berlinale Talents, a talent development program held as part of the Berlin International Film Festival. Launched in 2010, this program provides know-how and networking opportunities for those who wish to work internationally. One of its features is the acquisition and practice of skills to market project plans of works in the film industry.

Each participant of the program reviews his/her own project with world-renowned filmmakers and presents it in a “pitch,” which lasts just a few minutes. The pitch is also a clue for production/distribution companies to consider a project. It’s the first step of the filmmaking process, so to speak. In addition to lectures, Talents Tokyo offers an intense six-day program to acquire these skills.

About 15 Asian talents are selected each year from an open call for participation. They work on their projects under the guidance of such distinguished instructors (experts) as Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Apichatpong Weerasethakul and have gone on to become world-class filmmakers. Anthony Chen, who directed Ilo Ilo, and Kei Ishikawa, whose recent hit is Mitsubachi to Enrai (Listen to the Universe), must be well remembered. Both have also finished the program.

What kind of experience will participants of Talents Tokyo gain? Let’s talk to Asagi Kimura, the first Japanese recipient of the “Talents Tokyo Award” in 2021. The award is given to the best project. The 2021 event was held online due to COVID-19.

“I met people with whom I wanted to fight together.”

What made you decide to apply to Talents Tokyo?

Kimura: I went to Hamburg, Germany, for my film Hizume (Hoof) (2017), and I thought a film festival in Germany was really interesting. In Japan, audience members would leave theaters with serious faces, but in Germany, I made the audience laugh. Of course, there were those who didn’t, and I thought how interesting it was that there were people from so many different vectors. So, I was researching the Berlin International Film Festival and learned about a program called Berlinale Talents. But at that time, there was a language barrier (for me), so I thought, “I would never be chosen.” After searching around, I found Talents Tokyo, which works in cooperation with Berlin (Berlinale Talents).

“Hizume” (Hoof) (2017)

Did you apply soon after that?

Kimura: No, I had been holding back for a few years or so. I thought it would be impossible for me to participate in Talents Tokyo as it requires English ability. I could not speak English, and there were other issues to overcome. As I mentioned during the Talents Tokyo program period, I was pulled back by feelings of having hurt my family by making Hizume, and I was conflicted, wondering if my work could be screened and if I would make another film.

What was the reason that making the film caused you so much suffering?

Kimura: I completed Hizume once in time for the Osaka Asian Film Festival, but I was not satisfied with the editing, and I re-edited it. At that time, I realized that what I really wanted to film was not fiction. Instead, I was using a story to confront problems in my father’s past and discord between my body and spirit that accompanied it. I filmed a kind of process of the work in motion as a documentary and incorporated it in the re-edit. But my family asked me to stop because I was going to portray their private parts and my own body in a straightforward manner.

You mean your family doesn’t want the world to see their inner workings?

Kimura: That’s right. I was pulled by the emotion of having hurt my family for the sake of my own expression. It took me about five years to realize that I had an objective reason for expressing myself. I have now discussed it with my family, and they are supportive.

Lectures and communication with participants at Talents Tokyo are basically in English, right?

Kimura: Yes. Before the program started, we had a meeting to get to know each other. I was surprised at how much I didn’t understand. Then, I started learning English from that point. I decided to start learning online, just to get the guts to handle the large numbers. I created an environment in which I absolutely had to speak for 30-minute lessons, regardless of my English ability. I trained myself to be mentally prepared. All the participants for Talents Tokyo were really fluent. They talked to me like they knew I couldn’t speak English, so I was able to make it through, I think.

Talents Tokyo was conducted online in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Kimura: That’s right. Originally, participants would have gathered in Tokyo. As everyone was interested in Tokyo, there was a real expansion of topics.

A scene from the Talents Tokyo 2021 program. (Asagi Kimura is top left in the above photo.)
The Talents Tokyo 2021 program was held in online, connecting participants.

What did you most want to learn at "Talents Tokyo"?

Kimura: I mentioned earlier that I had not been able to apply for several years. For this project, too, I had been unable to move forward for five or six years, and the number of notes I wrote just kept increasing. I just wanted to get to a starting point and push myself to give it shape. I also like Korean, Taiwanese, and Thai works, so my motivation was really simple – I wanted to talk with Asian filmmakers/producers.

Traditionally, internationally renowned directors, producers and marketing people have served as experts (instructors). What does the six-day program entail?

Kimura: The main premise is to give a presentation at the end. There is a lot of coursework. Apart from main lecturers, there was also a lot of time to listen to guest lecturers. In director Atsuhiko Suwa’s class, we watched one film together and discussed it. Then there were marketing people teaching classes on their areas of expertise. It was more informative than rushed. I didn’t really feel like I was rushing through it.

Asagi Kimura attending Talents Tokyo 2021

What kind of guidance did you receive for your project?

Kimura: Since I do not speak English, I was told that I should use video and images in my presentation. But I have the impression that each director and film have different strengths and different points to focus on, so I was given advice tailored to each.

Your project, “Your Hair is Come from Blue green Fruits,” also deals with Okinawa and war as one of its themes. Was confronting the history and roots of your work a major factor in winning the award?

Kimura: I think they evaluated the emphasis on the process of interviewing my 90-year-old grandfather, writing a poem based on the interview, having him read the poem, gleaning memories and words that can or cannot be drawn from the poem, and then writing the poem again. I have a series of conversations. In the process, the fictional part based on the poem is filmed, and the unspoken is shown as images. In Talents Tokyo, I was surprised that not a few people saw and evaluated what I wanted to try.

Image visual pieces from presentation documents of Kimura’s project “Your Hair is Come from Blue-green Fruits”

Did the content change during the workshop?

Kimura: The work as such has not changed that much, but there has been a great change in focus, such as the need to deepen one part or not to look away from the other part. The way I look at and perceive the work, and perhaps it has become simpler rather than sharpened.

In your proposal, you mention “experimental” as a genre. What kind of experimental art film should you pitch to get funding?

Kimura: I also wondered where to submit (my project) and did not expect that it would be evaluated by Talents Tokyo. I mentioned obtaining funding for the production in the proposal, but I was still unable to report any concrete progress. But the award gave me confidence, so I continue to do interviews with my grandfather.

What are some of the most memorable stories you’ve heard from the experts?

Kimura: The words of Armi (producer and lecturer Armi Rae Cacanidin) really encouraged me. She told me that it took her about seven years to do her work, and what we are doing is such a long, long journey. I thought to myself that I shouldn’t have been worried about it after only five years (laughs).

Last but not least, how was your participation in Talents Tokyo stimulating for you?

Kimura: During my time, there were quite a few directors who were dealing with personal subjects, and they were very serious about how to fictionalize and assemble them into a film. That made me feel that what I had been facing was not wrong. Also, now there are people who are trying to make films even when their very lives are being threatened. When I felt their determination and the values of making films in a life-and-death situation, I realized once again that film is a struggle. In Japan, I don’t talk about such things, even among filmmakers. It was great to meet people who wanted to fight together with me.

>>Read Talents Tokyo [Part2] Kaori Oda

Japanese original text: Akira Murayama
Photo: Norihisa Kushibiki
Translation: Kae Shigeno

Photographed in cooperation with Athénée Français Cultural Center

Asagi Kimura

Born in 1994 in Okinawa. Directed A Fish without Scales (2016), a short film based on documentary footage of two women, as her graduation project at Image Forum Institute of Moving Image. It won the Grand Prize at the institute’s graduation screening. In 2017, she directed Hizume, her first feature film, screened in Tokyo in winter 2022. She is currently distributing a podcast titled Konya wa hitotsu dake (just one for tonight), in which she reads a story recorded in one take.

Talents Tokyo 2022

In order to strengthen creation and dissemination of culture from Tokyo in the field of film, the program brings young Asian filmmakers and producers to Tokyo with the aim of fostering talents who have the potential to become masters for the next generation. The program provides young Asian filmmakers and producers with the know-how and opportunities to build international networks in order to become active on the world stage. The program is currently accepting applications from May 1 to May 31.

Dates: October 31 to November 5, 2022 (6 days during the TOKYO FILMeX 2022)
Venue: Yurakucho Asahi Hall, etc.
Eligibility: Aspiring film directors and producers in East and Southeast Asia
Number of people to be accepted: Up to 15 from Japan and other Asian countries
Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, content of the program may be subject to change.
Organizers: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture), Talents Tokyo Organizing Committee
In Cooperation with: Berlinale Talents
In Collaboration with: GOETHE-INSTITUT Tokyo
Website: https://talents-tokyo.jp/