Japan Quietly Launches Production Incentives

Tokyo's Ikebukuro neighborhood - H 2017
Courtesy of Getty Images

The first scheme offering financial aid for overseas movie shoots has barely been promoted, and information is available only in Japanese.

Japan has launched its first-ever production incentives with so little fanfare that industry insiders wonder if the government actually wanted anyone outside the country to know about the program.

The "project to attract overseas film productions to locations" (there is no official English title as only information in Japanese is available) was launched on the website of the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO) on May 20, the day applications opened.

The details of the program were on a page buried on the VIPO website with nothing to indicate its existence. The page didn't include the figure of $1.7 million (?180 million) in available funds, which is to be split between multiple projects. An announcement of the program went up on the site on May 31, half way through the application period, which ends on Monday (June 10).

A representative for VIPO told The Hollywood Reporter that the reason for the short application window was because the program is not so much an incentive, but a research project to look at the effects of incentives.

"In line with that, if at least one production isn't approved, we don't think a budget would be allocated in the next fiscal year," the representative said. "In order to be able to take applications from many productions, if there was one production already in motion, we moved quickly to allow submission." This suggests that there was a project identified before the process began.

The lack of information in languages other than Japanese is down to the prioritization of preparing the application process, according to the rep. One producer was told during the process that no application forms in any language were yet available.

VIPO is administering the project in cooperation with the Japan Film Commission (JFC) and ad agency Quaras. The involvement of the agency is reportedly due to minimum capital requirements for a company receiving government funds above a certain amount.

JFC chair Mako Tanaka says the rushed launch was due to the final decision happening at the end of the fiscal year (March 31), and the program is looking "to have a test case and see if it really has an impact on the local economy."

The chronic labor shortage in Japan means the country is less interested in attracting major productions just for job creation, according to Tanaka.

"It's different to other Asian countries. They [the industry and government] are more interested in selling Japanese content and IP overseas. They're not desperate for more jobs in the film industry, though it does help local economies in terms of hotels and restaurants," Tanaka says.

The focus of the program appears to be to guide filmmakers away from Tokyo, where most big productions want to shoot, but where authorities are still loath to permit major disruptions, toward rural areas as a way to boost tourism.

Daren Afshar, who runs boutique outfit Winery Productions, believes if tourism is the goal, the program should be administered by the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Afshar, who has spent years lobbying the government to do more to attract Hollywood productions to Japan, is also unimpressed by the size of the program. "For the third-largest economy in the world, something this small is embarrassing," he says.