Japanese governmental agencies/film

Sharp Jasper jasper_sharp
Sat Sep 6 12:15:39 EDT 2008

I was going to chime in on this post a few days ago, but have been rushed off my feet over past few days.

Funnily enough, I was talking to the folks at the Japan Foundation UK about these very issues about a month ago. As some may know, I work as a "program advisor" for the JF UK's annual touring season, in which we try to get together a themed touring program of around 6 recent films to go around various venues around the UK. Usually this has been 4 from the JF library which they let the venues have at a lower price, and 2 new titles that the venues must pay for in full. In the past few years this has proven a little problematic in that the JF only acquires 1 or 2 new titles a year, and several of the newer titles we have chosen to charge the venues to screen - Canary and The Hanging Garden for example, have subsequently been acquired by the JF. But from my point of view, it is a catch 22 situation in that I can suggest a season theme (for example, Move Over Ozu - The Modern Japanese Family on Film) and then have to take wild stabs in the dark saying "do you have X, Y or Z film!
  which we can include in the season". Hence the themes of the season have been very vague (ie this year's A Life Less Ordinary was about "ordinary" people!) The mandate is also to show new films that mainly havent screened in the UK before or films by directors not known to UK audiences, so really these seasons don't leave much room to manouevre, and for this reason next year we're stretching back several decades earlier and not showing stuff just released in the past ten years.
Even in this case however, I've asked whether they have certain titles, and am given an affirmative "yes" only to find that the prints held by the JF are in 16mm or are too badly damaged to tour. Its a real pity, as from my probings I've discovered they have some great stuff in their archives, but not in a format that we can use for the tour, or for most venues (hardly any in the UK are equipped with 16mm projection equipment at the moment). Last time I met with them, the director of the JF UK did raise the subject of the various possibilities of screening these films in Britain, but really its a red herring, because you'd still have to pay screening fees (albeit slimmed down ones) to the Japanese distributors in question. 

As far as I know, the UK office is the only one that takes a more proactive role in promoting Japanese film, both through these seasons which have been running the past 5 years (initially with Stephen Cremin as advisor) and their recent "Japanese Cinema for Busy People" lecture seasons, from which I have seen there is a substantial appetite in Britain for more info and access to Japanese film. As has already been mentioned, the Japan Foundation is not equivalent to the British Film Institute at all. In general, it is closer to the British Council, in that they are engaged in promoting Japanese culture overseas, whether this be through organising taiko performances, art exhibitions or whatever, or providing Japanese language instruction. In fact, from my experience they are considerably more proactive in this respect than the British Council. My parents live in Kenya and are always talking about how the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi is organising theatre shows of films pr!
 ograms, whereas the best the British council can manage are a few coffee mornings and occasionally putting on videos of Fawlty Towers or To The Manor Born.

On a vaguely related note, I was in Kenya earlier in the year and was interested to discover that the Japanese Embassy also organises free screenings in Nairobi - I saw Faces of Jizo there, but their selection, which played to a tiny auditorium of mainly sleeping Kenyans (on 16mm) was pretty eclectic. From memory I believe they'd also showed a couple of Ghibli films and also weird stuff like Hinokio, that Shochiku family movie about a robot dog from a few years ago. It reminded me that up until about 5 years ago the Japanese Embassy in London also used to screen films for free - this seemed to be the initiative of one of their employees, who after a while just got bored of doing it or maybe was transferred elsewhere, and the Embassy stopped doing it. I wonder if the Japanese Embassy does this anywhere else? 

As for the attitudes of the companies in Japan in general, well, we are banging our heads against a brick wall here. I dont bother with any of the majors when I am organising programs for Raindance festival for example. I'd rather show new indie stuff from first time directors. But even stuff like Pia Film Festival arent cheap to screen from. I don't know, maybe the recent boom in interest in Japanese cinema will just die out overseas. There's no way of the new releases permeating the consciousness of potential foreign viewers if it wasnt for web writing or all these host of Japan cinema specific festivals that have spring up over the years. Yes, as Alex mentions, there are certain companies who are easier to deal with than others: hence the rash of Stylejam retrospectives over the past few years, and one of the reasons I wrote my book on Pink Cinema was because Shintoho were really happy someone wanted to promote their films overseas. 
But basically I can't think of any national cinema that gets so much charitable treatment as Japan, with foreigners basically working their guts out for no return at all to screen their films. Having just come from India, I was struck by how ALL Indian DVDs have english subtitles, and no one in Bollywood is griping about how they're losing potential sales to overseas markets. Same with Hong Kong. European companies will put English subtitles on their DVD releases without worrying about whether the film is released in England or not. 

In the meantime, for London viewers I shoul draw attention to the Osamu Tezuka season at the Barbican organised by Helen McCarthy at the end of this month. Also the Raindance Festival schedule has gone online - sift through it to find my various Japanese choices. The festival runs from 1-12th October in the Trocadero Centre in Shaftesbury Avenue, Picadilly/Leicester Square: www.raindance.co.uk/. I'll post something properly about this in a few days. Hope to see some people there!

Also, am in Texas in a fortnight to officially launch Behind the Pink Curtain with a small program of four unseen gems from the pink film genre: http://fantasticfest.bside.com/2008/films/category/Behind%252Bthe%252BPink%252BCurtain

Anyone going to be there?


Midnight Eye

> Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2008 22:46:20 +0900
> From: mjk555 at skyblue.ocn.ne.jp
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Subject: Re: Japanese governmental agencies/film 
> Apologies for not having warned beforehand that the Asahi ed
> itorial was boring but that was precisely the point,to illus
> trate what the general public's perceptions regarding the fi
> lm industry are.Only the slightest discussion is generated w
> hen a Japanese director gets an award abroad or when Japanes
> e films are screened in prominent foreign festivals.Other th
> an that,little ever happens or is discussed.
> Regarding the NFC,many changes are indeed needed although it
>  seems to be heading in the right direction?
> I agree that having a Kodomo Eigankan is a good idea but it 
> is also the easiest and most obvious one when trying to just
> ify budget,programmes and facilities.The Momat as a whole ha
> s kids programmes in summer and of course the NFC as part of
>  it is included too.
> In any case,I would like to point out that this kind of situ
> ation is not unique to Japan and that film education,preserv
> ation and research have a long way to go everywhere else as 
> well.
> Maria Jose Gonzalez

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