The scoop: There is usually one reason foreigners shoot pics in Japan: story. That is, they have to be here because the story has a Japanese setting, period. Otherwise, the country has a bad rep for high costs, uncooperative bureaucrats and a lack of tax rebates and other financial incentives.
Much of this rep is justified, but many folks in the local biz are trying to change that. The biggest outward signs of this are the film commissions that have sprung up in every corner the country in the past decade. The Japan Film Commission Promotion Council lists 97 orgs on its membership roll, from biggies like Tokyo Location Box, which cleared bureaucratic thickets so “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” could shoot on the latter’s title island, to rural outposts that have never hosted foreign productions, beyond stray tourists with camcorders.
The level of quality varies enormously, but the better, more experienced commissions have impressive track records with all sorts of productions, from big-budget Hollywood pics to local TV commercials.
Also, Japanese studios and post-production facilities are technically among the best in Asia — hardly a surprise given Japan’s pre-eminent position as an electronics maker. And crews, though mostly monolingual and expensive by Asian standards, are thoroughly professional and possess the legendary Japanese work ethic.
Finally, the widespread impression abroad that most of Japan is a concrete-covered wasteland, its ancient natural beauty destroyed in the rush to industrialize, is simply untrue. The Japanese themselves know this — and are experts at making a patch of countryside look like 1945 or 1603, with or without CG tweaks. Foreigners have to push harder to access this know-how, but it’s there if you know where to look — and whom to ask.
Bonus: Interested in shooting in Kobe, one of Japan’s most internationalized cities? The Kobe Film Office offers scouting support funds that pay for round-trip economy airfares and accommodations.
Shot there: “Letters From Iwo Jima”; “Babel”; “Ramen Girl”
Hot spot: Toho has poured $42 million into revamping its studio in the Tokyo suburb of Seijo Gakuen. By the time work on the five-year project is completed this coming spring, the studio will have two new 7,100-square-foot soundstages, for a total of 12, as well as a new post-production center. The 84,400-square-foot studio, Japan’s biggest, is available for rental by outside producers, Japanese and foreign.