Production update: Japan

Filmmakers bypass gov't, rely on regional help

The Japanese government offers little in the way of financial or tax incentives to foreign producers. The Agency for Cultural Affairs has contributed coin to co-productions between Japanese and foreign producers, but most amounts are modest. Various other government agencies and orgs are stepping up their efforts to raise Japan’s profile in the global contents biz, such as the J-Pitch development workshop for international co-productions funded by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, but they are generally far more concerned with exporting local product than importing foreign productions.

Also, costs for everything from box lunches to post-production are among the highest in Asia, while language and cultural barriers can be formidable.

Foreign producers, however, can access the expertise and contacts of the the 101 members of the Japan Film Promotion Council, an umbrella org for film commissions throughout Japan. Some, such as Tokyo’s Location Box, have impressive international credentials, including “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Babel” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

Outlanders can also take part in CoFesta, which oversees 16 content-related events running this year from Sept. 28 to Oct. 30, including the Japan Location Market, the Tiffcom visual contents market and the Tokyo Project Gathering, a pitch market for new projects.

Also, though many foreign pics with Japanese locales are big Hollywood, Hong Kong or European productions, suitcases of cash are not a prerequisite for filming in Japan. John Williams, prexy of Tokyo-based 100 Meter Films, has proved that, both as a director of his own pics — the latest being the psycho-thriller “Starfish Hotel” — and as a line producer for foreign indie productions.

“Shooting in Japan is a lot easier than most people think,” Williams says. “Of course there can be a lot of bureaucracy, but with the right know-how you can navigate that. If you go outside Tokyo and work with the regional film commissions, you get a lot of backup and even some financial incentives in some regions. This will probably continue to grow.”

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