Director Koji Fukuda says Japanese cinema could "go down the drain" without serious change. Photo: AFP

Japanese cinema must adapt to survive, warns rising star director

By Mathias CENA

Japanese cinema needs an overhaul. At least that's what acclaimed director Koji Fukada thinks, calling for less reliance on manga adaptations, more money for arthouse and better treatment of workers.

The 40-year-old's latest film "The Real Thing" was chosen for the main selection at this year's Cannes film festival, four years after he won a jury prize for emerging talent.

The glitzy French gathering was scrapped this year because of the coronavirus, but that has given Fukada more time to reflect on his concerns about the film industry at home.

Among them is what he sees as an over-reliance on adapting popular graphic novels rather than commissioning original ideas, he told AFP in an interview.

He is not opposed to manga adaptations -- his latest movie is one -- but he warns that the genre's ubiquity has "a negative effect on diversity".

"It's difficult to produce non-commercial films in Japan, where a lot of importance is given to their marketability," he said.

Japan's film industry long found the greatest international success through its animated output, most famously those produced by the multi-award-winning Studio Ghibli.

That trend has shifted in recent years, however, with Hirokazu Kore-eda's 2018 drama "Shoplifters" -- the story of an impoverished family forced into crime to survive -- nominated for the Best Foreign Film category in the Oscars last year.

But the country offers no government funds for arthouse movies, and studios prefer to minimize risk by backing what they see as sure-fire hits.

"At this rate, Japanese cinema is going to go down the drain," Fukada warned.

He has made around a dozen films, ranging from his 2010 hit comedy-drama "Hospitalite" to 2016's award-winning "Harmonium".

They tackle subjects from xenophobia and loneliness to regret and revenge, subtly revealing secrets and lies hidden within families.

But in recent months he has turned to activism, launching a crowdfunding campaign for arthouse cinemas in Japan, which he said were "in danger of extinction" even before the pandemic.

"They are often owned by people who barely earn any money and are only motivated by their love of film," he said. "It's not sustainable. We have to come up with a funding system that can withstand a second, or third wave of coronavirus."

So far, his campaign with fellow director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has raised more than 330 million yen ($3.1 million).

He has also sought to raise awareness of working conditions in Japanese cinema.

"Some directors think that making a film is a battle," he said, describing having been punched, kicked and insulted when he started his career.

While the #MeToo movement and associated calls for better treatment have made their mark on Hollywood and other film industries around the world, Japan still offers "a hostile climate" for those who call out harassment, according to Fukada.

A selection of his work will be screened as part of a special showcase at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, which kicks off on Oct 31.

"In the era of coronavirus, we thought that the public should have the chance to review his films," festival director Kohei Ando told AFP, praising Fukada's "critical eye on society and its absurdities."

His films often confront themes of isolation -- now in sharp focus as people are forced to stay home during the pandemic.

Fukada said he has paid close attention to the devastating effect the pandemic has had on society, noting a rise in suicides in Japan in recent months.

"Our everyday life, the things that we cherished, our loved ones, have been taken from us in one swoop," he said.

His work, he said, tries to address universal subjects -- including loneliness.

"It is in every one of us, and we try to live with it, to put a lid on it," he said. "But there is always a moment where it re-emerges, and forces us to ask ourselves about the meaning of life."

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Japanese cinema died with Kurosawa.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Maybe if Japanese cinema didn't depend on casting a bunch of 'tarento' in roles, required actual acting and not a plethora of tropes ranging from 'lovers arguing in the rain ending in one storming off' to 'boss sempai stands powerfully and grunts as he takes charge' and more, Japanese cinema wouldn't be so damned horrible.

18 ( +18 / -0 )

There hasn't been a serious Japanese movie released overseas for some years. The only good drama to make it into Netflix so far was the Naked Director. TV dramas in Japan are just not good enough to interest overseas television.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I agree with the previous posts and would like to add that Japan has lost all originality, just look at the TV programs, the films are nothing more than extended versions of TV. It's not an art form anymore, it's only for commercial success.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

The only thing that will save it is movies based around food and how delicious it is, Curry rice in Shinjuku for example, or cup ramen in the park, now that's the future. Oshieeee.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

What on earth are you guys talking about? Akira Kurosawa was definitely one of the most influential and best directors of all time, but he wasn't the only good director in Japan.

There have been many good films that never got international attention. "When the last sword is drawn" (Mibugishiden) was an amazing film in 2003. There was also "13 Samurai". The list will go on...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This has been true since the 1970's, when there were 3 major film production companies that controlled the tied theatre chains and distribution system, and produced a predictiable mix of jidai geki, yakuza pulp fiction, bubble-headed comedy, and anodyne domestic drama. Oh, and porn, plus the endlessly repetitive Tora-san series. As a result of this cartel arrangement, real writers, actors and directors were largely locked out of the industry, and unable to get their films made, nuch less widely distributed. It took decades - until US cinema companies decided to crack this market - for the system to change. Ironically, the Japanese film industry now finds itself unable to compete with foreign films, and the arthouse/indy/auterur-director films are still playing in tiny independent cinemas.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

arthouse/indy/auterur-director films are still playing in tiny independent cinemas

How is that different from literally every place on the planet?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How is that different from literally every place on the planet?

Batman Begins didn't just play in tiny independent cinemas.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Taking risks in Japan? No, thank you. Studios are better off milking the cow until it's dry, or the mangaka getting blind he cannot draw anymore.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Maybe not charge the current insane prices and don't spend months after major blockbuster has released internationally to add japanese voice over before releasing it here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Damn right, Hayao Miyazaki criticized the anime industry is full of otakus who can't imagine anything aside their sexual deviants.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

American movies have also become rather asinine and the hollywood production companies love a cinematic universe or a series they can bleed dry.

companies love money, and if people keep paying to see a reboot or the next in a franchise then why change? Just possibly it’s up to us to go out and see art house films, make the effort to go to small independent movie houses. If we don’t, then of course there is no future for these things.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Over 200 Japanese movies are released each year in Japan.

Only about 5 or 6 become hit or popular among teenagers.

1 or 2 out of those 5 are indie hits.

It's hard to list even Top 5 Great Japanese films from the last 10 years. Great Japanese films I mean like The Human Conditon Trilogy.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japanese cinema has been in the doldrums for decades now. And you can't blame it on overreliance on manga or other source material. Practically every country in the world makes movies based on another source, whether it be a graphic novel or simply a remake or another take on a previous movie. So originality is not to blame.

After all, take a look at South Korean cinema. Many of their movies get their inspiration and ideas from other movies and source material (even Japanese manga as was the case with the classic "Oldboy"). Yet, South Korea has long ago surpassed Japan simply because South Korean fimmakers make their movies seemingly fresh and exciting, and use themes and topics that appeal to an international audience, not just South Koreans. Japanese movies by comparison are boring and fail to excite anyone with their fixation on tarentos hamming up a scene.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There have been many good films that never got international attention. "When the last sword is drawn" (Mibugishiden) was an amazing film in 2003. There was also "13 Samurai". 

You're literally talking about a 17 year old film and a 10 year old film. Even if you toss in the occasional one like 'Eternal Zero', you might have 3 or 4 films in 20 years that aren't anime.

That's basically... horrendous.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lost count of the Japanese films I've watched over the years but the one's in the last few years, that stand out would be

Depatures (2008) intensely moving drama about a man who takes a career turn to become an undertaker.

Nobody Knows (2004) based on a true story of child abandonment.

Zatoichi (2003) Beat does his usual thing, in a bloody tale of the blind samurai, complete with a musical interlude.

Battle Royale (2000) A cameo from Beat, but it;s all about Lord of the Flies for the 21st century. A wicked commentary on competition and ruthelessness in society.

No need to mention Kurosawa, Ozu or Miyazaki - their brilliance is a given, but those eras are over.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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