China, Japan to Sign Landmark Co-Production Treaty in May

New Classics Media/Kadokawa Corporation/Emperor Motion Pictures/Shengkai Film
'Legend of the Demon Cat'

The agreement is another sign that film-industry collaboration between the two Asian economic giants is gradually on the rise.

China and Japan, Asia's two largest economies, are set to sign a bilateral film co-production treaty when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Tokyo in May, Japanese government sources told the Asahi Shinbun newspaper on Wednesday.

The policy is intended to deepen ties between the two countries through improved cultural cooperation. The signing will mark the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which formally normalized relations between the two nations some three decades after World War II. It will be Japan's first international film cooperation pact.

Given the scale of the Chinese and Japanese film markets — the world's second- and third-largest box offices, respectively, trailing only North America — the new treaty could have far-reaching repercussions for both nations' film industries, as well as the regional movie sector at large.

Co-production treaties typically entail mutual access to national incentives and subsidies, and greater market access on each side. Such state-level partnerships also ease the permissions process for receiving filming permits, work visas and moving filmmaking equipment across borders. In China's case, co-production status also entails exception from Beijing's strict quota on film imports, which could be a considerable boon for Japanese film producers.

Often pitted as regional geopolitical rivals — owing to territorial disputes and the painful legacies of WWII — Japan and China have experienced a relative uptick in cultural relations in recent years, with local filmmaking getting increased exposure on one another's screens. Japanese animated film Your Name completed a history-making run in the Middle Kingdom in 2017, pulling in $83.7 million. Jackie Chan's Skiptrace and Chinese mega-blockbuster Wolf Warrior II, meanwhile, received theatrical releases in Japan last year.

During last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, an art-house film exchange program between Japan and China was initiated. Soon after, 10 Japanese titles, including Naomi Kawase’s Radiance and Daihachi Yoshida’s A Beautiful Star, began screening in succession in Chinese cities. Japan began reciprocating in March with the limited release of 10 Chinese films in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

Last year also saw the release of the most high-profile Japan-China co-production to date, Legend of the Demon Cat, a fantasy mystery film directed by China's Chen Kaige and scripted by Japanese writer Yoneyama Mineo.

Japan has invited Chinese Premier Li for a formal state visit next month to coincide with a trilateral summit with South Korea. Many have interpreted the overture as a sign of Tokyo's increased push to improve ties with Beijing.