by Chris MaGee
"Right now, many Japanese films aren't creative works, but mere products." A pretty harsh statement, wouldn't you say? But is it in fact true? So say Taka Ichise, a man who's definitely entitled to his opinion. Ichise was one of the producers of such films as Hideo Nakata's "Ring" and "Dark Water" and Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-on", films that created a whole new genre, J-Horror, and spread the popularity of Japanese film around the world; but now the 49-year-old film whiz, pictured above left next to "Ju-on" director Takashi Shimizu, is bemoaning the state of his beloved industry in a New Year's statement on his official blog. "On New Year's Eve three years ago, I wrote that the Japanese film industry was about to become a wasteland," says Ichise, "and that has become a reality." Some of the symptoms of the waste? DVD sales in japan dropping and the reluctance of the major studios like to back a production that won't be a guaranteed hit. So what do Japanese audiences have to look forward to? According to Ichise "a barrage of adaptations of TV series" which seems to be true, but he does propose a solution, "Create good scripts. Find the most suitable actors. Pull together production funds somehow. Make the greatest effort possible with directors and crew who possess the ability and vision to fight for the same goal. And rack our brains to figure out how our films can be seen by as many people as possible."
I can't say I totally agree with Ichise, but I definitely can't disagree with him either. If you take a look at the top box office performers one a monthly or even weekly basis it quickly looks like our beloved Japanese films aren't that different than the formulaic Hollywood fare that drove us to Asian cinema in the first place. Do we really need to see another cute cat or dog film? Another nostalgia piece trying to capture a Japan that no longer exists. Yet another Doraemon animated film? Or, of course, yet another break screen crossover of a popular Japanese TV show? I think there is hope in A) the fact that you had a film like "Departures" gain global popularity. It may be formulaic in its own way, but at least it's opened people's eyes and made them more likely to go and see a Japanese film than a couple of years ago. Also B) being one half of the programming team behind Toronto Shinsedai Cinema Festival it's hard not to ignore the amazing talent that is coming from the independent film scene in Japan at the moment. Maybe all the Japanese film industry needs is one or two high-quality, low-budget independent productions to make a ton of money at the box office to convince the studio execs to take chances on new talent, both behind the camera and in front.
Well, for now the Japanese film industry is dead, at least according to Ichise. Long live Japanese film! To read his full statement head over to Ryuganji where Don Brown has kindly translated it into English for us all.