Japan’s Yoda Stresses Need for Positive Messages

Exec hopes to lure moviegoers back to the cinema in wake of recent disasters.

BUSAN, South Korea -- Naoshi Yoda, founder and CEO of Japan’s distribution outfit T-Joy and founder of production company Amazonlaterna, both subsidiaries of powerhouse studio Toei, pledged to create films with positive messages to encourage his fellow countrymen after the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami disasters that struck Japan last March.

“Some of the cinemas in Japan were destroyed in the disaster, so the market for film has shrunk; but more importantly, people have lost the urge to seek entertainment in this mood,” said Yoda, who has been named the Exhibitor of the Year by CineAsia 2011. “I want to produce films that encourage people; films with meaningful messages that make it worthwhile of a trip to the cinema, and to tell the Japanese people ‘we have to be positive.’”

Michi – Hakuji-no-Hito (The Way – Man of the White Porcelain), which Yoda executive produced and is promoting at Busan, is onesuch film.  The first foreign film to received funding support from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the $3 million co-production is also the first film ever to depict the sensitive and controversial period of Japanese colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. 

Based on the novel Hakuji-no-Hito by Japanese writer Takayuki Emiya, directed by Banmei Takahashi (Tattoo Ari, New World of Love), and starring Japan’s Hisashi Yoshizawa (The Night Of The Shooting Stars) and Korean actor Bae Soo-bin (Brilliant Legacy), Michi tells the true story of Takumi Asakawa, a Japanese man who went to live in the Korean Peninsula in 1914, at the age of 23 until his death at 40. Asakawa took part in the re-forestation in Korea, and took inspiration in the Korea folk craft that launched the folk craft movement in Japan, including a love of the white porcelain provides the film with its title.  His friendship with the Korean people carried special significance during this painful period, a point that Yoda stresses. 

“It was a sad time for Korea,” noted Yoda, “but I hope the film can be a bridge between our two cultures. Cultural products have always had the ability to cross borders.” Yoda aimed to position the film as a step to bolster the two countries’ relationship and to heal old wounds.

Michi, shot in Korea and Japan last summer, will be released in mid-2012 by T-Joy in those two countries. T-Joy has established the joint venture CJ Entertainment Japan, between T-Joy subsidiary Amazonlaterna and Korean media conglomerate CJ E&M to develop co-productions and full scale cross-border distribution. “We aim to pursue a film slate that not only sends a positive message to the audience, but also appeal to the people across Asia,” Yoda said.