Japan’s reel deals

Buyers hit Asian Film Market in full force

PUSAN — Japanese sales companies of all sizes, from the giant Dentsu ad agency to small indie outfits, are setting up booths at the Pusan Intl. Film Festival Asian Film Market, which runs Sunday through Wednesday at the Grand Hotel.

The Japanese contingent of nine is relatively large given that Japan’s own TIFFCOM market at the Tokyo film fest is a little over a week away — and that many of the Asian buyers at PIFF will also be at TIFF.

Why the double dipping?

Eleven Arts, an L.A.-based sales outfit with Japanese toppers that reps a largely Japanese lineup, may be an in-between case nationality-wise, but its reason for being at Pusan, says CEO Junichi Suzuki, is straightforward.

“As far as we’re concerned the more markets the better. We’re a small company with a slate of indie pictures and we have to work hard to sell them, so we can’t afford to pass up any chances to meet buyers,” Suzuki explained. “We were at Mipcom, now Pusan and we’ll be at Tokyo and AFM as well.”

Among the new titles on the Eleven Arts slate are “Yokohama Mary,” a docu about a legendary Yokohama prostitute, and “Noriko’s Dinner Table,” a drama by “Suicide Club” helmer Sion Sono.

More-the-merrier is also the philosophy of Gaga Communications, a major indie distrib that began producing films this year.

“We’re making five or six films a year now and we want to market them aggressively abroad,” said Gaga sales rep Keiko Mori. “We need to show our films to as many buyers as possible — and there will be a lot of them at Pusan. It makes sense for us to be there.”

Gaga will have market screenings for “Backdancers,” a musical about four dancing girls with pop star dreams, and “The Letter,” a romantic drama featuring Takayuki Yamada, star of last year’s smash “Train Man,” and Erika Sawajiri, a teen sensation who is starring in four pics this fall.

Sales agent Ritsuko Abe of Open Sesame sees the need for a fall market to replace Italy’s Mifed — and is wondering if Pusan will be it. “We’re going to bring our films and hope that we can meet buyers,” she said. “We won’t know unless we try.”

She tried TIFFCOM last year, but wasn’t impressed with the results. Toronto is also difficult for an Asian indie “unless you have a film in the festival, which we didn’t this year,” she explained.

Pusan, she believes, is becoming the Asian Toronto — a great festival, with great business potential. “There will be plenty of buyers, but how many will see our films? Right now, we don’t know,” she said.

Open Sesame’s extensive slate is topped by “Faces of a Fig Tree,” the debut pic by Japanese thesp Kaori Momoi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) that will have its world premiere in the Window on Asian Cinema section.

Sharing a booth with Open Sesame is Gold View, which is bringing the new Shinji Aoyama pic “Crickets” to Pusan. Topper Kiyo Jo saw the need not only for a Mifed replacement, but also for an Asian market that can compete with AFM, Cannes and Berlin for Asian business.

“Asians films tend to get lost in the crush of American and European films at those major markets,” she said.

An Asian market that attracts the important buyers of Asian films is her ideal — but is Pusan it?

“I hope so,” she said, “but the market doesn’t have to be at one place — it could be at Pusan one year, Tokyo the next year and Hong Kong the year after that, but I doubt that’s going to happen. Politically, it would be very difficult.”

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