Legislation should encourage local production

TOKYO — After decades of attitudes ranging from indifference to outright hostility, the Japanese government has finally decided to assist its film industry.

Responding with numerous programs from disparate (and sometimes competing) ministries, the pols now see the sector as having huge potential to drive exports.

Leading the way is the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which established advisory film committees in 2003. Following their recommendations, the agency has created substantial policies, ranging from a general doctrine concerning the “preservation of movies as a cultural asset” to detailed changes in Japanese law that allow individual film ventures to be limited-liability partnerships, thus reducing risk.

According to Tomonori Saiki, a film expert who came over to the agency from the National Film Board specifically to develop film policy, “We’re tying to establish an infrastructure to support filmmaking in Japan for the long term.”

The agency allocated a budget of $18.4 million in 2006 and raised it slightly to $18.7 million this year for these policies and programs.

Initiatives range from supporting film fests and the National Film Center to financing Japanese co-productions with foreign production houses. The latter effort has been the most fruitful, with five projects garnering government coin recently.

“We Will Not Forget You” by production houses Wides Japan Inc. (Japan) and Isaku Film (Korea) received a grant of $252,000. “The Longest Night in Shanghai,” a co-production of Movie-eye Entertainment Inc. (Japan) and Megajoy Pictures (China) made off with the same, as did “Silk,” a pic with numerous financial backers, including Bee Vine Pictures (Japan), Tele-film Canada, HGFund, Alliance Atlantic, Fandango S.R.L, (Italy) and New Line Intl. Two more Japan-China co-productions, “Hou Ou” and “Sakurannbo,” snared $58,000 and $160,000 respectively.

Other government departments are heavily involved as well. Keiji Koizumi of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) explains, “METI is developing programs that put importance on Japanese intellectual properties, and the top priority is film, or rather image-based contents.”

Though they have diverse initiatives, METI is stressing three areas: the development of an international market for Japanese contents, training of Japanese contents producers and creating the Japan Intl. Contents Festival, skedded for Sept. 19-Oct. 28 in Tokyo.

Under the moniker J-Pitch, nonprofit org UniJapan is overseeing the first two initiatives, with Toshiyuki Hasegawa acting as director. “This is the second year we’re doing Japanese pavilions at festivals around the world to let the film community know about these programs,” he says, citing plans for Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Pusan and Hong Kong’s Film Mart. “One of the basic tenets of J-Pitch is to increase Japanese producers’ ability to do co-development and co-production of films with foreign producers.”

To that end, a series of workshops is being held for Japanese producers by 100 Meter Films, a Japan-based international production house. Producers submit a treatment and, if chosen, attend the intensives with an eye to developing the venture with producers outside Japan. Koizumi stresses, “J-Pitch is the incubator to get the projects going, get people making the contacts.”

J-Pitch brings in numerous experts from in and outside Japan to advise the attendees on how to develop their projects. One of the leaders of the workshops, helmer John Williams of 100 Meter Films, explains, “It’s a project-development program with an emphasis on developing not only projects but producers, too.”

In addition, J-Pitch has formed a partnership with the Producers Network at Cannes and has a 10-year plan to place foreign producers with Japanese projects.

Among numerous J-Pitch successes to date, Hasegawa points to one: “In Hong Kong, the Japanese production company Entertainment Farm announced a co-production with Fortissimo. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is attached to direct, and an Australian will write the script.”

The Japan Intl. Contents Festival (JICF) is being produced by the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO), a Japanese contents biz umbrella org that has been set up by METI.

Tomoharu Ishikawa, the secretary general of VIPO, explains, “The main purposes of VIPO is to develop Japan’s contents market, to develop human resources in Japan and to help companies get set up.”

JICF will present speakers, screenings and markets in an attempt to synergize film, toons, videogames, animation, comics, TV shows and character goods in order to offer international buyers a range of locally produced contents.

But as both an adjunct to the Agency of Cultural Affairs committees and deputy director of UniJapan, Takashi Nishimura sees the well-meaning government efforts as somewhat disorganized.

“Whether the government can successfully implement its plans to develop the contents industry in Japan still remains to be seen,” he says. “There are so many agencies related to the same projects, they need efficient regulation. Until then, it may be tough to be effective.”

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