Screenings, fundraisers dot landscape amid industry's own suffering

With declining auds, closed plexes and scrapped projects, the film biz has suffered like many other industries following the Great East Japan Earthquake, but it has nonetheless played a role in offering assistance to victims.

Immediately following March 11, the day of the quake, nearly half a million people had been left displaced from their homes. Many of them were children, and given their special vulnerability, the non-governmental org Peace Winds Japan decided something should be done.

“Because of the disaster, so many children were experiencing emotional trauma,” says Tsutomu Nagatsuma, a representative of the operations department of the organization, which is dedicated to helping people suffering from conflict and poverty. “So we contacted Studio Ghibli, and they happily agreed to send films and equipment so that the children could enjoy themselves.”

By the middle of April, two toons by helmer Hayao Miyazaki, “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” had unspooled on 100-inch screens installed inside evacuation centers in 16 locations in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. Children were given hand-drawn sketches as presents upon entry.

To offer personal support, actor Ken Watanabe helped in the distribution of relief supplies in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture and made an appearance on local radio. Similarly, resembling its work after the Hanshin earthquake of 1995 that devastated Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, talent agency Ishihara Productions dispatched topper Tetsuya Watari, thesp Hiroshi Tachi and 10 trucks of supplies to Ishinomaki as a part of the “Ishihara Army,” which operated a food line that dished out 3,000 servings over a one-week period.

Ryo Hashiura, film programmer for exhib Forum Network, a seven-plex chain located in quake-hit areas of the north, sought assistance of a motivational kind by requesting that helmers from around the world write messages of support to suffering film fans.

“I believe in the hope that films will continue to encourage them and that films will once again become a part of their lives,” says the programmer, who adds that the reopening of the Forum Network’s plexes in tsunami-devastated Sendai and Fukushima — a city not far from an ongoing nuclear radiation crisis — within three weeks of the quake had a very positive effect on the communities.

The online site Filmmakers for Japan has subsequently collected dozens of the messages received by Hashiura from such notables as Wes Anderson, who wrote: “You will not be out of our thoughts for a moment while you continue to suffer from this catastrophe.”

Japan’s largest exhib, Toho Cinemas, which had over 20 plexes temporarily impacted by the quake, is asking customers to make donations to the victims. Over the last 13 days of March, the chain raised $14,500 for the Japanese Red Cross through charity boxes placed inside all of its lobbies nationwide.

“Our sole and biggest task is to recover the state where all those who have suffered are able to enjoy films as they had before,” says Akira Hattori, deputy head of sales.

Yuko Shiomaki, president of sales agency and distrib Pictures Dept., established a donation link on the website Just Giving Japan. Japanese cult pic helmer Sion Sono (“Cold Fish”) and the film programmer of the Pusan Intl. Film Festival, Kim Ji-seok, are among those who have contributed to the more than $6,000 that has been raised thus far.

“My original purpose, just a few days after the quake happened, was to make a place where people overseas could join and offer support,” she says.

Special film-related fundraisers will also be held in the future to increase the donation total. “I really hope to tell people there that they are not alone,” the president says.

SPOTLIGHT: JAPANESE CINEMA:
Pics can help heal Japan | Japan film biz aids quake victims | Mortal thoughts

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