Tokyo: Japan And China Talk Up Cross-Border Movie Cooperation

“We no longer need Hollywood studios to tell Asian stories and take them to the world. We Chinese and Japanese should be making them ourselves,” said Shan Dongbing, a veteran Chinese producer, now heading the Foye Film unit of leading Chinese conglomerate Fosun.

“These are the world’s number two and three movie markets, we have all the investment and the intellectual property necessary to produce our own blockbusters for the global market. With these two alone we should be able to recoup our budgets and see (sales and revenues from) Europe and the U.S. as our bonus,” said Shan.

He was speaking Wednesday at a seminar on Japanese-Chinese movie industry collaboration, held as part of the Tokyo International Film Festival’s Japan Content Market.

The present day reality is far more mundane and slow moving than the fiery rhetoric.

Industry consultant Rance Pow of Artisan Gateway produced statistics that showed Hong Kong as by far China’s most important coproduction partner, both in terms of volume of production and in Chinese box office success. Pow’s data pointed to only 11 Japan-China film co-ventures, among them films which failed to be recognized as co-productions under Chinese rules.

Hitoshi Endo, producer at Japan’s production and talent group Amuse, said that his company’s TV series “Midnight Diner,” had been far more successful in China than its “Five Minutes To Tomorrow” movie.

Japanese cartoon, “Doraemon: Stand By Me” became the first Japanese film to be given a mainstream release in China for several years, and scored an unheard of $86.9 million. But panelists suggested that it was more likely to be an exception – due to demographic and regulatory peculiarities – than the herald of a new cinematic era.

Shan said that after the Chinese film industry began to open up in 2000, its producers had little experience of making commercial films and turned initially to Hong Kong for experience. And Chinese audiences have yet to shake off their taste for Hong Kong movies.

He pointed to recent examples of Korean-Chinese co-ventures as a possible role model for Japanese firms. “Over time Korean companies have learned not to be so demanding about their share of the back end,” he said. In other cases Korean film-makers have been employed to make essentially Chinese movies, rather than attempting to find some middle ground.

Japanese companies have evidently been less flexible so far. They want to keep their IP brands intact and have decisions on cast or script in the Chinese remake. “It can be quite difficult if the IP is controlled by multiple owners [typical of Japan’s production committee system] making it very difficult while a producer has to wait for multiple approvals,” said Shan.

Chinese regulatory issues – including script approvals, censorship and Chinese content requirements – have often been stumbling blocks on the road to international cooperation with the Chinese movie industry. Shan, however, held out the prospect that forthcoming regulatory changes that may improve transparency, expand import quotas and ease rules on distribution and exhibition. “China wants to change,” he said.

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