5 best films to watch at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2021

Not sure what to watch at TIFF? Check out these films from around the world (that you can still get tickets to)

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen

We love Netflix as much as the next person, but to put it bluntly, the number of quality films on streaming platforms isn’t as high as it should be. And even if a particular gem is featured on our subscriptions, it doesn’t always come with English subtitles. That’s why film festivals like this one are all the more essential. On top of screening newly released box-office hits that have yet to appear in local cinemas, the Tokyo International Film Festival provides us with rare access to stellar foreign films that would otherwise have us lost in translation. 

Tickets for this year’s edition of TIFF only went on sale on Saturday, but the city’s film buffs have been quick to nab seats for buzz-worthy titles including Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’ or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ‘Memoria’. Don’t worry if tickets for some of the productions on your watch list are in high-demand – there are plenty of promising films coming your way that haven’t sold out yet.

From the 2021 Camera d’Or prize-winner ‘Murina’ to the world premiere of Mikhail Red's ‘Arisaka’, here are five highlights to catch at Tokyo International Film Festival 2021. 


This 2021 coming-of-age drama marks the directorial debut of Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. Despite being Kusijanović’s first full-length feature, ‘Murina’ took the  Caméra d'Or prize following its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and is even backed by Martin Scorcese, who is credited as an executive producer. 

The film delves into the complicated relationship between 17-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović) and her verbally abusive, overbearing father as she feels an increasing urge to break free from his clutches and become her own woman. On a four-day family trip to the seaside, Julija turns her attention to her father’s friend Ante, a wealthy older man who has joined the family on holiday and Julija begins to see as her potential ticket to freedom. 

Screening at 2pm on October 30 and from 4.10pm on November 4. 


At just 29 years old, Mikhail Red is a formidable talent in the Filipino film industry, having made a number of eerie thrillers including ‘Birdshot’, the nation’s first film to be distributed worldwide by Netflix. 

In this fog-filled, 96-minute thriller, a policewoman who is the sole survivor of an attack on a key witness is given refuge by a group of indigenous people living in Bataan. With assailants hot on her trail, our protagonist must follow the path of the World War II Bataan Death March to find her way back to safety. 

Screening at 3.55pm on November 1 and from 3.50pm on November 6. 

The Four Walls 

A Kurdish composer stumbles across a series of tragic events after his view of the ocean is obstructed by a new building. An intense human drama directed by Iranian-Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi ('Turtles Can Fly'), ‘The Four Walls’ is one of the premieres we’re most excited to see at the film festival this year. 

Screening at 2.35pm on November 2 and from 7pm on November 5. 

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko 

Based on the eponymous 2014 novel written by Kanako Nishi, ‘Gyokou no Nikuko-chan’ (‘Nikuko of the Fishing Harbour’) revolves around a mother-daughter duo with totally different personalities. Kikuko is an elementary school student whose mother – nicknamed ‘Nikuko-chan’ – uproots the pair to a different town every time a romantic relationship falls apart.

When Nikuko-chan finds a job in a fishing village and the pair settle into their new life on a small house boat, Kikuko secretly hopes that she can grow up in her new home without becoming too much like her mother. The animated film is directed by Ayumu Watanabe, with characters designed by Kenichi Konishi, who joined Studio Ghibli as a trainee in 1989 and worked on productions including 'Spirited Away' and 'Howl's Moving Castle'. While the film was released in Japan over the summer, this screening at TIFF will provide English subtitles. 

Screening from 6.45pm on November 7. 

The Daughter 

A couple (played by Javier Gutierrez and Patricia Lopez) struggling to conceive their own child make a deal with a pregnant 14-year-old to adopt her unborn child. At first, the 14-year-old moves into the couple’s home, but trouble arises when her boyfriend (the baby’s father) appears to try to change her mind about giving the baby up. 

Filmed across three seasons to capture the passing of time, Manuel Martin Cuenca ('Cannibal') produces another deliciously suspenseful thriller that starts off smoothly and tumbles into a chasm of deep despair. Starring newcomer Irene Virguez as the teen mother, this unflinching, calculated film makes its Asian premiere at TIFF. 

Screening at 10.20am on November 4.

TIFF is on from October 30 to November 8. Want to see the full list of films screening at TIFF this year? See the lineup on the event's official website

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