Government execs pitch Japan's TV networks

Tokyo — Government officials from Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital and a one-time major producer of samurai period dramas, visited three commercial networks in Tokyo on Tuesday to plead for more production in the genre.

The highly unusual pitch comes at a time when TV viewers have been turning away from feudal-era shows, long a favorite with the over-50 demographic.

Kyoto prefectural governor Keiji Yamada and Kyoto mayor Daisaku Kadokawa decided to make the rounds of Tokyo Broadcasting System, TV Tokyo and TV Asahi after TBS canceled “Mito Komon,” a period drama about a justice-seeking, white-bearded lord that has been running almost continuously since 1969.

The net will air the 1,227th and final episode on Dec. 19. Despite stories set all over Japan, the show was shot almost entirely in and around Kyoto.

With the exception of pubcaster NHK’s “Taiga Drama” — 52-week skeins set in various eras of Japanese history that NHK has commissioned each year since 1963 — the period drama has all but vanished from terrestrial airwaves.

The pols made a written plea for a restart of genre, saying that its smallscreen disappearance will erode know-how of traditional arts and crafts, from costume-making to hair-styling.

They also noted that the genre teaches Japanese culture to a new generation.

Not incidentally it has also been a major source of revenue for the city, with the Toei Uzumasa and Shochiku Kyoto studios once churning out dozens of samurai costume dramas for film and TV.

TV Tokyo, the smallest of the five commercial networks, has agreed to launch a new period drama, “Nagaremono Orin 2,” in January, but the others have not yet replied to the Kyoto request.

Production of samurai-themed pics has also fallen sharply since the 1950s peak, when the genre accounted for half of all film production in Japan. The few that are made are still popular at the box office, such as Takashi Miiike’s 2010 hit “13 Assassins,” which also sold widely abroad.

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