China's iQIYI and Japan's Fuji TV Link on Drama Production (Exclusive)

Mysterious Summer - H
Fuji TV

Mysterious Summer - H

"Mysterious Summer" features a mostly Chinese cast and Japanese director, in the first drama production collaboration of its sort between companies from the two countries.

TOKYO – China's iQIYI video platform, a subsidiary of search giant Baidu, and Japan's Fuji TV have teamed up for a drama series Mysterious Summer, due for broadcast in July. This is the first such collaboration between a Chinese online video platform and a Japanese TV network.

Facing a slowly shrinking market at home, Fuji TV is expanding its presence overseas, including this first push into the huge and growing Chinese online video sector. In the fiercely competitive Chinese video-streaming market, iQIYI is seeking to differentiate itself through high-definition and original content.

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Filming of the 15 episodes of Mysterious Summer finished this week in Beijing, with Fuji TV's Satoshi Kubota (Tokyo Tower) directing a predominantly Chinese cast joined by guest Japanese actors, including Yuki Furukawa (Eternal Zero). Each episode is a stand alone story, in Chinese, with the drama scheduled to begin streaming on iQIYI on July 31.

Furukawa became a big star in China last year with the broadcast of the Japanese drama Itazura Kiss: Love in Tokyo, and is reported to have more than 600,000 followers on Weibo, a local Twitter-like platform. The 26-year-old actor has already done promotional work for Japanese companies in China, but this was his first time working a drama there.

Language was, unsurprisingly, the biggest hurdle for both Furukawa and director Kubota.  

"Working in Chinese, with the five tones, was even more difficult than I'd thought it would be," Furukawa told The Hollywood Reporter the day after returning to Tokyo.

"The directions on set were being given in Chinese, so I had to guess what I was supposed to do a lot of the time," said Furukawa.

Furukawa also had lines in English, much less of a challenge having spent most of his schooldays in Canada and New York.

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When the script was translated from Japanese into Chinese, the local writer had made some significant changes, according to Kubota.

"I was giving directions, but the Chinese cast didn't know what I was talking about because they were reading something completely different in their scripts," said Kubota.

Once the scripts were aligned so that the director and cast were quite literally on the same page, the next challenge was getting used to the way the local crew worked.

"It's a cultural thing, but Japanese people are very precise and prepare meticulously, but they're very laid-back about that in China. They would turn up late, unprepared and not even sure of where we were in the schedule," explained Kubota.

After telling the local crew and cast that he wanted everything confirmed and prepared properly in advance, Kubota says he found himself up until the early hours of the morning discussing things with them.

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"They really worked hard though, and by the end, we made a really good team," said Kubota.

Kubota says he was surprised to find the level of technology in China being ahead of that in Japan.

"They were editing as soon as we'd finished shooting, and everything was being done in 4K," said Kubota.

Despite all the challenges, both Kubota and Furukawa are keen to shoot overseas again, with their dream being to work in Hollywood.

Twitter: @GavinJBlair