Okinawa Set as Yoshimoto’s Asian Hub

Southern Japanese island Okinawa is being shaped as a pole for Asian regional co-operation.

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NAHA, Okinawa, Japan — Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo has long been a leading force in the Japanese talent biz, supplying comics to seemingly every variety show on television. But under the leadership of president Hiroshi Osaki, the company has been rapidly expanding beyond its base in Western Japan, with Okinawa, the farthest south of Japan’s major islands, serving as a hub and the Okinawa International Movie Festival, its 6th edition unspooling March 20-24, a showcase for Yoshimoto-sponsored talent and contents.

One symbol of the growing strength of the Yoshimoto-Okinawa connection, as well as the Okinawa fest’s growing importance, was the first-ever red carpet event held on Sunday on Kokusai-dori or International Street, the main street of Naha, Okinawa’s biggest city.

Among the hundreds parading were top Yoshimoto comic Miyuki Oshima, star of the new comedy “Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats” that premiered at the fest, Masaki Okada, hot young star of the quirky drama “Oh Father” whose presence nearly caused a riot among his teenaged female fans, and Johnny Knoxville, whose “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” was appearing in the competition.

More concrete evidence of Yoshimoto’s international strategy was the Okinawa Contents Bazaar, a two-day event at which Yoshimoto unveiled its plans for Okinawa, Asia and the world, most prominently a joint venture company to be launch by Yoshimoto, Taiwan-based Content Land and Hong Kong-based Media Asia. The object, explained Yoshimoto rep Yasushi Hiraiwa, is to “expand our program production into Southeast Asia and China.”

Details, including launch date and even the company name, are still forthcoming but Yoshimoto’s aim is to produce TV shows and other contents together with Media Asia and use Content Land’s extensive Asia network to market them.

In addition to Media Asia and Content Land, Yoshimoto has tied up with LA-based CAA and Malaysia-based Astro for its Contents Bazaar content production project. “We want to make localized contents for Asian audiences, not just export our own,” Hiraiwa explained.

Yoshimoto already has a growing track record in the region, including a TV show showcasing new talent it successfully launched in Taiwan with a local broadcaster in November; a co-produced comedy show showcasing Yoshimoto comedy duo CowCow and Korean comics; and a project to localized Japanese shows for Thai audiences with Nippon Television Network and Thai-based production house KantanaLucks.

“Okinawa makes a good regional base,” says Hiraiwa. “Naha is close to major cities in Asia. Also, Okinawa offers a friendly, cooperative environment for production.”

Co-operation is no longer limited to hosting the festival. All 41 municipalities of the prefecture sponsored entries in this year’s Yoshimoto-sponsored JIMOT CM Competition aimed as showcasing local attractions and delicacies.

Also, through its Naha-centered Sakurazaka Film University project, Yoshimoto has been flying in guest lecturers, such as in-demand TV scriptwriter Kankuro Kudo, to give locals pro insights into the production projects. Previously announced plans for a year-round film and TV school, however, have yet to materialize.

Finally, the Okinawa Film Commission has been working with Yoshimoto and other outside partners to ramp up local production of everything from TV commercials to feature films, with four of latter screening in the fest. Johnny Knoxville may not be filming a “Jackass” episode in Naha any time soon, but with Yoshimoto’s backing Japan’s nearest equivalent to Hawaii may someday it’s Asian counterpart as a go-to place for production.