Korea's Protect Screen Quota Day
Wed Dec 2 04:11:26 EST 1998
From: Mark Schilling <schill at gol.com>
To: <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu >
Re: Imports quotas on foreign films in Japan
Date: December 2, 1998
With the aim of shedding light on the topic of the Japanese government's
import policy regarding foreign films, I offer an except from a chapter on
foreign film distributors in Japan that I wrote for the ACCJ's 50th
anniversary book, which was published this fall. (It's probably not
available outside of Japan, though the ACCJ threatened to distribute it in
Hollywood movies remained popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s,
despite deteriorating relations between the United States. In 1924, when
Congress passed an Immigration Act effectively ending Japanese immigration,
Japanese opponents organized a boycott of American films, but local
moviegoers kept lining up at the ticket windows. Even in 1937, when Japan
had signed cultural exchange pact with Germany and Italy and American
criticism of Japan's invasion of China was escalating, local distributors
still imported 239 films from the United States, compared with only 56 from
Europe. Censorship was heavy, including cuts of all kissing scenes and
anything considered even remotely critical of the Emperor system, but
viewers couldn't get enough of Hollywood action and glamour (Not a few also
came to believe that American life was an endless round of machine gun
battles and cocktail parties.)
Japan's militarist rulers, however, viewed the Hollywood influence as
dangerously decadent and, when war began in December 1941, halted the
import and distribution of American movies. During the war years, most
Japanese movie fans had to make do with domestic propaganda films, though
Yasujiro Ozu, serving in Singapore, obtained access to a seized cache of
foreign movies and spent happy months screening the work of Howard Hawkes
and Ernst Lubitsch.
After the war, with the arrival of the American-led Occupation
forces, official policy toward the products of Hollywood changed 180
degrees. Viewed by Occupation authorities as carriers of democratic values,
Hollywood films became key in the effort to Americanize Japanese society
and institutions. The overseer of this effort was the Civil Information and
Education (CIE) section. Established on September 22 1945 and headed by
Col. Kermit Dyke, a former vice-president of NBC Radio. CIE was in charge
of conducting propaganda and censorship activities in all public media,
Film distribution, however, was under the control of the Central
Motion Pictures Exchange, which was established under Occupation auspices
on February 1, 1946. The CMPE handled films from nine Hollywood studios,
including the four biggest major: Warner, Paramount, MGM and 20th Century
Fox. It's first release, on February 28 -- and the first American film to
be shown in postwar Japan -- was Mervyn LeRoy's "Madame Curie."
But though the number of foreign films released in Japan soared during the
Occupation years, from two in 1945 to 206 in 1951, the CMPE could not
distribute whatever the US studios produced. Occupation censors preferred
films that stressed the positive side of American democracy and rejected
ones that dwelt on the negative, including America's troubled history of
racial and religious prejudice. Thus Elia Kazan's 1947 "Gentlemen's
Agreement," which was a ground-breaking expose of anti-Semitism in America,
and his 1949 "Pinky," which dealt with the issue of race relations through
the eyes of a young black woman trying to pass for white, never made it to
the screen in Japan.
The censors. however, were not always consistent, approving William
Wyler's 1946 "The Best Years of Our Lives," which graphically depicted the
painful readjustment of returning veterans to civilian life, for screening
in Japan. It became a became a well-remembered hit, not only because of its
seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but because its theme
resounded with the more than three million Japanese were in a military
uniform at the war's end. .
In 1952, with the departure of General Douglas MacArthur and the end
of the Occupation, CMPE was disbanded and control of the film industry
reverted to the Japanese government. On October 15, 1952 the US major
studios officially reopened their local offices and began distributing
their films in Japan. The Ministry of Finance, however, had no intention of
allowing them to ship boatloads of Japan's precious foreign currency
reserves off to Hollywood. To keep the outflow of dollars to a minimum, it
imposed strict import quotas on foreign films, licensing only a set number
each year, and severely restricted the repatriation of funds to the United
The quotas varied, with the ministry making its annual allocations
principally based on each distributor's box office performance the previous
year, but inevitably the Big Four studios -- MGM, Paramount, Fox and Warner
-- ended up with the largest quotas, usually from 13 to 16. They were
followed by Columbia, Universal and RKO, with nine or 10 and smaller
companies such as Allied Artist, Republic and Allied Artists, with three to
six. Japanese importers of US films were also bound by quotas, though
numbers were usually smaller.
Also, ministry rules restricted the number of prints that foreign
film distributors could send to exhibitors, setting a limit of 12 in July
1954. Given the thousands of theaters that were showing foreign films by
mid-decade, distributors often had to ship the same print to as many as a
100 theatres. The result was long release periods -- a popular film could
spent as long as three years traveling the various circuits -- and a
less-than-perfect viewing experience for fans at the end of the line. "By
the time the theaters in the provinces got the prints, they were usually in
tatters," reminisced Kozo Koizumi, former Administration Department manager
of Sony Pictures Entertainment. "With all the splices to repair damage to
the prints, a two-hour film would be only an hour-and-a-half long and
Distributors could also receive quota bonuses by exporting Japanese films.
After Columbia released Ishiro Honda's 1954 "Godzilla" in the United States
and it became a money-spinning hit, ministry bureaucrats allowed the studio
to add one film to its quota for the following year.
Meanwhile restrictions on foreign currency transfers encouraged
Hollywood studios to shoot in Japan to access blocked funds. Thus the
steady procession of Hollywood productions to Japan in the 1950s, including
Samuel Fuller's 1955 "The House of Bamboo," Daniel Mann's 1956 "Teahouse of
the August Moon" and Joshua Logan's 1957 "Sayonara."
Besides adding dollars to Treasury coffers, the quota system and its
corollaries gave the domestic film industry room to grow against the Holly
wood competition. The number of major domestic studio releases soared from
21 in 1945, to 547 in 1960 -- an all-time industry peak. Fueling this
production spurt was a theater construction boom, with number of theaters
growing from 845 in 1945 to 7,457 in 1960, yet another all-time high.
The film business was thriving in Japan while it was dying in the United
States because television was not yet a mass communications medium.
Although television broadcasting began in Japan in 1953, the first sets
were far too expensive for ordinary consumers, most of whom were still
struggling to emerge from poverty. In the early 1950s a 14-inch
black-and-white set cost nearly Y140,000, while the monthly paycheck of a
newly hired salaryman was Y10,000.
Meanwhile, in 1956, the average price for a movie ticket was still only
Y62.90 yen, making films an entertainment bargain. During the decade
theater attendance skyrocketed, reaching an all-time high of 1,127,452,000
in 1958. "It was an time when people didn't have a lot of money and a lot
of entertainment alternatives -- movies were it," commented Toshio
Furusawa, National Marketing Director for Twentieth Century Fox (Far East).
The Japanese studios were enjoying a golden era, with critically acclaimed
directors such as Ozu, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi turning out masterpieces,
dynamic young stars such as Toshiro Mifune and Yujiro Ishihara drawing
crowds and a cooperative government keeping the foreign competition in
line. In the peak year of 1959, distribution revenues for Japanese films
reached Y30.6 billion, compared with only Y8.65 billion for foreign films,
for a market share of nearly 78%. Industry veterans, however, claim that,
far from having a prejudice against Hollywood products, Japanese filmgoers
would have flocked to them in greater numbers if the regulatory barriers
had been lower. "Japanese aren't like people in other countries who reject
foreign cultures," explained United International Pictures (Far East)
executive director Yuji Ohkubo. "They accept them readily; that's one of
their good points. It's made our job much easier."
The task of selling those films, especially in the provinces, was not for
the faint-hearted, however. Though the two largest exhibitors, Toho and
Shochiku, carried foreign films in their lineups, salesmen from the
Hollywood film distributors had to work hard developing relationships with
dozens of independent theater owners in their territory. "You couldn't lie
to them or they would figure it out right away," said UIP chairman Shigeru
Musha, who joined Paramount in 1951 and worked as a salesman in Aomori
Prefecture and other provincial areas. "They were a special breed of men
who knew the business. The only way I could win their trust was to sell
them good pictures."
Then, as now, Japanese audiences, especially ones in the provinces,
preferred action above other genres, while giving most Hollywood comedies a
pass. But the studios, remembers Koizumi, would often force distributors to
take films that the Japanese staff knew wouldn't play in the local market.
"The studios thought that what had been a hit in America would also be a
hit here, but it wasn't always the case," he said.
Even so, such 1950s Hollywood spectaculars as "The Robe" and "The Ten
Commandments" also did spectacular business in Japan, though not many in
the audience could claim familiarity with the original materials. Another
US hit that also found success was "West Side Story," which opened in Tokyo
on December 23 1962 and enjoyed a record 73-week first run. Japanese girls,
especially, couldn't get enough of star Richard Beymer, the Leonardo
DiCaprio of his era.
In addition to battling quotas and a strong domestic industry, by the late
1950s, Hollywood film distributors had to face the threat of television.
With the wedding of Crown Prince Akihito his common bride, Michiko Shoda,
drawing an audience of 15 million -- the largest in the media's short
history, television was suddenly no longer the plaything of the few but a
much-in-demand consumer good for the masses. By 1964, the year of another
must-see event, the Tokyo Olympics, movie attendance was plunging and TV
ownership was soaring toward 90%. total admissions for the year fell to
431.5 million, or less than half of the 1958 peak, while the number of
households paying NHK receiving fees rose to 16.7 million, compared with
only 1.56 million in 1958.
On July 1, 1964 the Japanese government finally liberalized the import of
foreign films, but even without the quota system, distributors could not
halt the plunge in admissions caused by the inroads of television. They
were, however, able to boost their market share, from 34% in 1964 to 44% by
the end of the decade.
Meanwhile, Japanese film companies were swimming in a flood of red
ink as the prosperity of the previous decade fled. In response, they began
slashing production, restructuring operations and shedding staff. On June
1, 1965 they also agreed to implement a special screening system for
Japanese films to protect them against further incursions on their box
office turf by the foreign competition.
Like their Japanese rivals, foreign film distributors tried to hold
the line on costs and, in the process, encountered union resistance, in
their case from the All-Japan Foreign Film Labor Union (Zenyoro).
Organized in 1964 by employees of the major foreign film distributors and
numbering nearly 450 members at its peak, the union complained that
salaries, which were set by the American parent companies, had not risen in
line with the growth of the Japanese economy and the consequent inflation.
"The problem was that the Americans who were running the distribution
companies at the time didn't understand the situation in Japan," recalled
Koizumi, who was a union leader. "Instead of being paid well compared with
employees at Japanese companies, as we had been in the 1950s, we were being
paid considerably worse."
Starting in 1967 and continuing for several years, the union
conducted a spring labor offensive (commonly abbreviated in Japanese to
shunto) to push for their salary demands. But though they made concessions
to union demands, the majors were also determined to make cuts in their
Japan operations. In particular they targeted the network of regional sales
offices they had established in the 1950s, when it took more than a day to
travel to the far reaches of the country from Tokyo and more than an hour
to place a domestic long-distance call. With improved communications, the
offices' large staffs were quickly becoming redundant.
Japan, was not the only country where the majors were facing a
declining market, making the staffing levels of local subsidiaries harder
to justify. In May 1970 Paramount and Universal linked to form Cinema
International Corporation (CIC), with headquarters in London, to handle
their distribution outside North America, including Japan. Paramount and
Universal closed their Japan offices in June, moved to a new location in
the Ginza in October and began the joint distribution of films. In January
1971, the partners officially changed their corporate name to CIC, with a
capitalization of Y25 million.
Among the first decisions of the new management was to reduce the
staff by half. The union protested vigorously and, after a lengthy court
battle, succeeded in having ten staff members rehired and two years worth
of salary paid to those who had been discharged.
The process of cost-cutting and consolidation continued, however. In
February 1974, the Japan office of MGM closed its doors and discharged all
of its employees. In June 1976 CIC began distributing MGM films in Japan
and, in 1985, changed again, to its current name of United International
Pictures (Far East). Its distribution lineup included the films of not only
Paramount, Universal and MGM but United Artists, which MGM had purchased in
1981. and which had closed its Japan office in 1983.
In 1978 the Film Building in the Ginza, which housed the offices
of MGM, Warner and Fox, became the center of union-management struggles
when the owners sold the building and discharged the maintenance staff.
Union members marched on the building repeatedly to demand their
reinstatement until 1981, when the union and management sides reached an
agreement and the discharged employees were paid compensation.
During the 1970s other foreign film distributors trimmed staff and
instituted hiring freezes that lasted for decades. "We were perceived as
sunset industry," said Koizumi. "Instead of movies, young people were going
into advertising and television."
Despite the upheavals of the 1970s, Hollywood films, led by such
mega-hits as :"Love Story," "The Godfather," "Jaws," "Star Wars" and "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind," took the lead at the Japanese box office. In
1971, boosted by the smash success of "Love Story, foreign films grabbed a
majority share of the Japanese market for the first time,. with 53%. In
1975, the year that "Jaws" broke all box office records in Japan, the
market share of foreign films passed 55%.
> From: Aaron Gerow <gerow at ynu.ac.jp>
> To: KineJapan <KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu>
> Subject: Re: Korea's Protect Screen Quota Day
> Date: Wednesday, December 02, 1998 3:08 PM
> >Upon reading this, I suddenly realized that I know far more about the
> >history of federal domestic film protection in the Korean context. I'm
> >basically ignorant of Japanese import policy. Does anyone know if there
> >even IS one?
> No, there is not, and at least until the late 1980s, when foreign films
> finally overtook domestic films, there probably was not much a need for
> one. There were restrictions, of course, under the 1939 Film Law, but
> the postwar government's position towards film has been largely laissez
> faire. Alternatives have been bandied about, but none have gone too far.
> If anyone knows more, I'd like to hear it.
> Aaron Gerow
> Yokohama National University
> KineJapan list owner
> For list commands: send "information kinejapan" to
> listserver at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Kinema Club: http://pears.lib.ohio-state.edu/Markus/Welcome.html
More information about the KineJapan