International Collaborations Gradually Gaining A Foothold
—Interview with Japanese Producer Shogo Tomiyama

Shogo Tomiyama,Producer, Secretary-General, Japan Academy Prize Association

Started his career in Toho from 1975, Tomiyama had promoted over 20 films, such as “Kagemusha” directed by Akira Kurosawa.

In 1983, he became a producer in Toho Pictures, which is the studio/production division of Toho. From 2004 to 2010, he was the president of Toho Pictures. His produced films had been 30 titles; all 12 Godzilla films series after “Godzilla vs. Biollante”, “Young Girls in Love”, “Abduction” and “Red Moon” which won many awards in Japan Academy Prize. Literary work “Managing GODZILLA” Since 2004, he has been the Secretary-General of Japan Academy Prize Association. He talked about his career as a producer when he received our interview.


CFM: When did you join APN (Asia Producers Network)? What’s the purpose for you to join APN?

A: I’ve been taking part since the 2nd event (2007). As a Toho Pictures producer (productions from Toho Co. Ltd.), I decided I wanted to work on collaborations with overseas artists. In actual fact, for Zero Focus in 2009, we filmed at the Bucheon Fantastic Studios with the full support of Cha Seoung-Jae, at that time a Sidus producer and a mover and shaker from Korea in the APN, and Kim Sun-A.


CFM: What’s the plan for participating this years’ JCS? Is there any new project for you to promote this year?

A: As you see below, the APN seminars and presentations at this year’s TIFFCOM are at a very high level. One is a panel discussion with Chinese producers. The moderator will be Satoru Iseki, a major figure in the Japanese field, who was the first Japanese APN representative and has worked on international collaborations for many years. The discussion will be an exclusive look at the world of China’s top producers. Then there are the reports on Asian movies in 2015, given by producers from each country attending APN. These are all you need to understand the state of the art in cinema from ten or more Asia-Pacific countries. This is another seminar covering content you’ll never find elsewhere, which I highly recommend. As for me myself, up through last year I was in charge of NDJC (New Directions in Japanese Cinema), a project run by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to cultivate young directors. Over three years, we sent 14 young directors out into the world of Japanese cinema, one of whom participated in the 3rd Silk Road International Film Festival held in Xi’an in September.


CFM: Working as producer, what is your biggest fun from working?

A: Sitting in the audience in a packed theater on the movie’s opening day and remembering the beginning of the planning process. Feeling sure I’ve gotten the ideal shot when concentration is high on set. Receiving good reviews for a movie, helping give the staff and cast a career leg up.


CFM: What’s the special way of filming for Japanese films comparing with other Asian countries?

A: For many years in Japan, film companies with their own studios shot movies on their own dime, so that investors and creators were one and the same. It’s typical, thus, now for investors to hold the copyrights, so production and producers, the ones actually creating the movies, have a hard time turning a profit. Further, Japan has a unique production committee system: this has developed noticeably from 2004 on, involving multiple investors holding joint copyrights and carrying out production and promotion. Clearly it’s not well suited to international collaborations. Filmmakers in Japan need to realize that the Japanese film world needs a different framework within which to work on international collaborations.


CFM: How do you handle disagreements you may have with studios, directors, actors etc.?

A: I take it case by case. I choose my own staff and cast, so I can work to nip any foreseeable trouble in the bud before it develops. With the studio (investors), I have a history on the studio production side when I was with Toho Studios, so I’ve faced the problems that attend on the process of finalizing production costs. To handle these problems, it’s important to assemble professionals who can read the script from the perspectives of both the movie’s content and the budget structure.


CFM: Did you have any experience in co-producing with filmmakers from foreign countries? What was the main problems existed

A: Aside from problems with international collaboration, in 2003 I worked on a movie called Red Moon with Number Two Productions at the Beijing studio of the time, shooting over two months in summer and winter, at northeastern Chinese sites including Harbin, Heihe and Nenjiang. What’s important in co-producing is, first of all, finding a partner you can trust. Relying on them all the way. And keeping any promises you’ve made to them, absolutely. The hardest thing about international collaboration is figuring out a plan that will appeal to both creators and audiences from different countries. The second hardest thing is working out the script for that plan with creators from different countries.


CFM: Japanese films usually have very good market performance at home, even competed with Hollywood blockbuster. How did Japanese filmmakers to achieve that?

A: Japanese cinema’s progress has been measured in twenty-year periods since 1975, first hopping, then stepping, and now jumping. The motive forces are 1. planning and development ability, 2. diverse investments including production committees, and 3. expanded terminal cinema complexes (cinema complexes adjacent to urban terminal railroad stations) which make it easier to draw bigger audiences. Naturally, the digitalization of the movie world as a whole has been enhancing these trends. As well, there are two weak points: 1. lack of experience and track records with international collaborations, and 2. lack of people who can nurture freelance staff and guarantee them a living. International collaborations are gradually gaining a foothold, but the problem of freelance staff cultivation and assured support is a serious one.


CFM: What is your favorite Chinese film?

A: The first film that sticks in my memory is Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Others that have stayed with me are Postmen in the Mountains and Devils on the Doorstep. A movie with actors I like is The Grandmaster.


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