Japanese governmental agencies/film

Alex Zahlten Alex.Zahlten at gmx.de
Fri Sep 5 07:03:24 EDT 2008

Hi everyone, this discussion is very interesting, I think.

The current changes in government policy as channelled through METI, MIXTI and the like towards film are actually, I think it's safe to say, directed more towards what the various white papers and reports refer to as "content", which is a much more diffuse concept. Looking at "Creative Japan" brochures by the foreign ministry, it seems to mean mostly manga and anime, with some fashion and live-action films mixed in. From an economic rationale this seems sensible, as that is where the most growth in exports has taken place.
Terawaki Ken of the Agency for Cultural Affairs was very active in promoting film-related projects, but the changes in policy there were being prepared much earlier. In 1988 the Agency published a paper called “Promotion of Film Art” (Eiga geijutsu no shinkô), which for the first time spoke of the 
necessity of protecting film as an art form. In 1994 it published a similar paper which now outlined 
various fields in which activity should take place. However the focus was always on single, "culturally valuable" films. In 2004, however (and under the  influence of the flurry of government activity on "contents"), picking up a number of recommendations from the Committee on Film Promotion, it released a paper titled Plan for Promoting Japanese Film and Image Media, which now proposed concrete measures for promoting Japanese film in general. While with METI this strategy is obviously focused on promoting an industry, when the Bunkacho uses the same policy it inevitably becomes the promotion of a national cultural product (and, potentially, a certain concept of nation). And regarding METI, MIXTI and JETRO, I have the distinct feeling that the larger policy changes caught them by surprise as well. I can remember several meetings with mid- and high-rank officials that had invited my colleagues from the Nippon Connection Film Festival and me to talk about potential cooperation!
 s and projects. For the most part, these meetings were filled with uncomfortable silence, as they simply had very little idea of how to go about dealing with a film festival or promote "contents". In all fairness, film and other media are very different products from steel and computer chips, which they have much more experience in. It will take some years before a real set of strategies emerges from the various government institutions, at the moment it all seems like experimentation.

As for the NFC and its staff, to be fair it must be said that they ARE constantly stripped for funds, constantly overworked and stretching their limits. The NFC's original raison d'etre was preserving film, and I don't even believe (anyone who knows for sure can weigh in) that promoting film culture i.e. screenings was in their original charter. So a bit bizarrely, as I understand it, it was originally conceived as an institution for the preserving of films, which weren't necessarily planned to be shown. The whole structure of the institution today is still shaped by this. 

Also, I wanted to warn against consummate damnation of the Japanese film industry as ignorant blockheads. Actually, in my experience, there is a considerable mentality divide that goes pretty straight down the line between the former majors (including Kadokawa) and mid-size to small companies. Smaller companies are often  extremely helpful and have very different ideas about how to conduct business, and make access to their films possible. Also, depending on if you include anime in the film industry, there have been some radical changes in company policies in the last ten years, with strategic non-suppression of certain practices such as fan-subbing and the like. This is even on the side of giants like Toei, and while of course this is based on the rationale of economy and profit, it is still pretty surprising.
Of course, the former majors (including Kadokawa) are the ones with the greatest influence on government policy (just look at who was on the various committees Koizumi installed to estimate the importance of the contents industry, now there is a self-fulfilling prophecy). And yet I am always astonished that a company like Toho, that is often enough singularly uncooperative and prohibitively expensive (sabotaging its own films into not getting shown at a lot of festivals) turns immense profits year after year - and is even very successful with its film exports.

alex at nipponconnection.de

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