JF Waste?

Mark Roberts mroberts37 at mail-central.com
Tue Nov 10 21:29:46 EST 2009

The whole issue of the JF as "competition" recalled some remarks by  
Donald Richie on the distribution policies of the majors, specifically  
concerning domestic screenings and subtitled prints. These were during  
a talk that he gave, following a screening of Mizoguchi's "Osaka  
Elegy" at the Japan Foundation's old office in Akasaka, in 2004. While  
trying to locate details on this screening, I actually found a  
complete transcript of Richie's lecture on the FILMeX web site. Here  
is the relevant extract:

"In the case of Japanese film's titled prints, these are not only sold  
through commercial distribution channels, but they are also circulated  
for museums and university showings by the Japan Foundation, by the  
Kawakita Foundation and others. They have usually acquired, that is,  
they bought a print from original company, a titled print, and have  
agreed to show it only abroad.
The reason for this, the only showing abroad the titled print, is that  
the original producing company (Toho, for example) fears that if a  
print is shown in Japan outside customary distribution venues it will  
attract Japanese viewers who will not be paying admission directly  
into the company. Even if the film showing is free it is still thought  
that potential customers are lost. Though this logic is shaky, this  
ban has been permanent for quite numbers of years now.

Perhaps, the question I am asked most often by both foreigners and  
Japanese is why subtitled Japanese films cannot be shown in this  
country. There have been several exceptions, for example, the Japan  
Foundation office in Kyoto had a very successful series of Japanese  
films for numbers of years, but the stipulation was that only  
foreigners could come and see them, and no Japanese could, so they  
were forced to limit these showings.

In my own organizing of the film showings of titled films, here in  
Japan, I have sometimes been denied the use of a titled print even for  
educational or membership audiences. The reason was always the same:  
the producing company objected. If I could get their permission then I  
might use the print, but of course getting this permission was never  
very easy.

On the other hand, these titled prints, permission granted, could be  
readily shown overseas since the foreign audience was not considered  
large enough to represent any appreciable financial loss. It is for  
this reason that titled prints of Japanese films are often to be  
encountered abroad and almost never here.

Now, however, for the very first time, permission has been granted to  
show titled prints to a mixed foreign-Japanese audience today. Anyone  
is free now to buy a ticket and to attend.

This is a great step forward in the dissemination of titled Japanese  
prints in Japan. It means that such films may now be screened in the  
director's own country, to be appreciated by both local audiences, the  
Japanese and the foreign."


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