Oscar bounce absent at Filmart

Firms from India, Japan see no biz boost

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HONG KONG -- On the penultimate day of the Hong Kong Filmart, where one might have expected sellers to be enjoying a post-Oscar peak in interest in films from Japan and India, there were instead conspicuous absences and a distinct lack of buzz.

Neither Shochiku, the studio behind Japanese director Yojiro Takita's best foreign-language Oscar winner "Departures," nor a single Indian film company was present on the floor of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

Shochiku, it turns out, hasn't traditionally set up at Filmart, and not even Takita's triumph convinced the company to strut its stuff in Hong Kong -- the first major world film market held after the Academy Awards. (Shochiku does exhibit at AFM, Berlin and Cannes, but a spokeswoman couldn't easily explain why the distributor passes on Hong Kong.)

Meanwhile, Japanese sellers who were present on the floor and had hoped to translate the "Departures" Oscar victory into deals for their films were feeling no love by association.

"I don't think there's been much of an overall boost to the level of interest we're seeing in Japanese films," Shinako Matsuda, a representative of Nikkatsu, said Wednesday.

With tighter budgets for travel and booths, 11 Japanese companies worked together under the UNIJAPAN banner at one large booth.

Distributor Toei brought Takita's latest offering, "Sampei the Fisherman," to market on the heels of its opening in Japan on Friday. Buyers in Hong Kong were waiting to see how the film, which premiered at the tiny Yubari festival in Hokkaido in February, performs at the Japanese boxoffice before making any offers, a Toei spokesman said.

If an Oscar win wasn't adding oil to Japan's film fire, sellers hoped that sales at Filmart would pick up in the wake of Japan's five wins -- including those for best picture ("Tokyo Sonata") -- at the third Asian Film Awards on Monday.

Where Japan at least showed up at Filmart, Bollywood stayed away.

Anoop Wanvari, general manager of Indiantelevision.com, a group of Mumbai-based online entertainment industry newspapers, was found sitting alone in an empty booth, the only one at Filmart representing India, the country that makes more movies than any other each year.

"There's no money to spend on events such as these," Wanvari said. "The Indian economy has been hit hard by what is going on in the United States."

Although director Danny Boyle was due to walk the red carpet on Wednesday in Beijing at the China premiere of "Slumdog Millionaire," Wanvari was skeptical that a Chinese run for the rags-to-riches story would produce any appreciable rise in East Asian interest in South Asian films.

" 'Slumdog' is a good film, but not an excellent film," he said. "It's great that a film about India won so many Oscars, but it's meant nothing to raising interest in Mumbai out here."

Gavin J. Blair contributed to this report.