Kawase: Japan failing local filmmakers

Director won Cannes' Grand Prix with latest film

TOKYO -- Applauded in Cannes for raising the profile of the Japanese film industry, Naomi Kawase on Monday criticized the government here for failing to do enough to support filmmakers and take advantage of domestic film skills.

Kawase won the Grand Prix at the Festival de Cannes in May for "Mogari No Mori" (The Mourning Forest) and late last week met with Akira Amari, the minister of economy, trade and industry, to call for a rethinking of the relationship between the government and Japan's movie industry.

"I told the minister that I am a filmmaker but that I can't make a living from films," she said. "The fact that I won the Grand Prix in Cannes means this will be easier for me in the future to raise money for my next film, but what I want for the Japanese movie industry is a system where it is more easy for people to get funding and to have a movie distributed abroad."

She pointed out that Japanese directors used to be able to make three or four titles a year, but that has changed now.

"I'm only able to make a major movie every three or four years, and I find myself looking forward and asking myself how many films I will be able to make in my lifetime," she said.

"And if I'm only able to make one film every few years, then I have to make sure it's a success -- and that's a tremendous amount of pressure," she added.

Kawase won the Camera D'Or, which honors first-time directors, in Cannes in 1997 with "Moe No Suzaku," making her the youngest recipient. Her latest project was a joint French-Japanese collaboration set in the mountains of northern Nara Prefecture.

The 97-minute movie is the tale of an elderly man suffering from dementia who is unable to come to terms with the death of his wife and his relationship with a young care worker whose child has died.

The film opens June 23 in Japan but will be screened in only 15 theaters. In France, more than 70 cinemas plan to show the movie.

"It is true that Japanese movies have been doing better at the boxoffice in recent years, but most of that success is based on them being remakes of earlier titles, spinoffs of popular Japanese television dramas, anime movies or horror films," she said.

"My films are in the realm of pure and serious literature, but that perhaps makes it difficult for a moviegoer to want to come and see my films," she said, admitting that her works "are not profitable."

"I would hope for some kind of support from the government here, but I really have very low expectations of politicians or interest in politics," she said. "Most people of my age don't vote, so we have given up before we even try.

"That is why I took this opportunity to present my report to the minister about Cannes, but I also told him I want to create an environment that makes films work," she said. "I told Mr. Amari that the only Japanese film in the competition was fortunate enough to get the Grand Prix, but let's not lose that momentum and let's find ways to take advantage of this.

"We need interaction between the industry and the government, and I hope we can build more connection and dialogue with other people in other ministries to create a more cooperative relationship," she added.