Chance Meeting Opened Asia Doors for Thomas

British Producer Plans Ongoing Association with Director Miike

British producer Jeremy Thomas regaled a packed house with a lifetime's worth of cinematic experiences Monday at a UniJapan Entertainment Forum seminar titled "Co-production with Asian Countries."

"I was born in a cinema, my father made more than 50 films," Thomas began. 

He went on to describe how his association with Asian cinema began with a chance dinner meeting with Japanese filmmaker Oshima, who sent him a script two years later. That script ended up becoming the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

"It was Takeshi Kitano's first role, he'd never been in a film before. He ended up making films himself as well as acting," said Thomas, who later produced Brother, which Kitano directed. 

Thomas, who produced this year's Takeshi Miike-helmed hit 13 Assassins, said he had chosen to work with Miike because he had loved the director's Audition, which he said had shocked him. 

"They wanted me as an outside perspective, but someone who understood Japan and would be able to make it more appealing to a global audience," Thomas said in response to a question about why he thought the Japanese filmmakers had chosen him. "The film has sold well around the world and been very successful at festivals." 

Recalling the making of the 1987 Oscar winner The Last Emperor, Thomas said they had been allowed to shoot in the Forbidden City for free. "We didn't even stop shooting when the Queen of England wanted to visit the Forbidden City, so she ended up not coming," Thomas said. 

"I raised the money for The Last Emperor by literally going through the phonebook and calling up bankers. The banks invested because they wanted to get their businesses an entry into China," recalled Thomas, "When I went back with my next project, they didn't want to know. They'd got what they wanted, they'd got into China."

Thomas called the basic process of filmmaking the same all around the world, "though production in Japan is very efficient, like everything in Japan is very efficient. In some ways too efficient."

He had just got back from Kyoto, where he visited the set of Miike's new 3D remake of 1962's Seppuku (Harakiri in the U.S.), which he's co-producing with Toshiaki Nakazawa. "This is gonna be a regular thing with Miike," he told The Hollywood Reporter after the session, "because I respect him and love his films."

Thomas, who said he comes to TIFF every year, said the kind of cinema he likes is having a hard time these days, not only in Japan but all over the world, as they're forced to compete with what he terms "industrial films" with $200 million marketing budgets. 

"How can we compete with that?" he asked.

Of this year's lineup, he had special praise for David Fincher's The Social Network. "This wasn't an industrial film. It's not about toys and superheroes flying around the world," he said. "It's about people. I would like to have made that film and I don't say that about may films."