Panel: Asia takes back seat to H'wood


TOKYO -- Asian movies may be enjoying a surge in popularity but the industry here still has major hurdles to overcome if it expects to challenge Hollywood's supremacy in the marketplace.

That was the message coming from a three-person panel taking part in a seminar examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Asian film industry. The panel convened in conjunction with the 19th annual Tokyo International Film Festival.

"The rise of Asian films is good, but I fear that if we focus on profits too much then standards may begin to slip," said Satoru Iseki, a director-producer with Tara Contents, which he set up earlier this year.

Describing the Japanese film industry as "isolated" from much of the rest of Asia, he bemoaned the fact that while Japan purchases many foreign films to be screened, very few domestic productions travel in the other direction -- in spite of the historic successes of directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.

"It is a very sad situation that Japanese film is not a bigger topic," he said. "This is the second-largest market in the world, but we are only looking at acquisitions and it is very sad that we cannot export our own culture."

Former Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO Bill Mechanic, now head of production shingle Pandemonium Films, identified three possible impediments to Asian films traveling abroad: the language barrier, cultural specificity and a focus on character rather than storytelling that is accessible to a broad range of viewers.

"Stories that are specific to a culture have no broad appeal," Mechanic said. "Movies about American football don't do anything outside America; myths and fairy tales do travel well."

Hong Kong-based producer Nansun Shi, meanwhile, offered a fairly rosy picture of her own territory, pointing to the opening of the mainland China market and the tremendous opportunities it offers. She did, however, allow that Hong Kong faces problems of its own.

"Our films of the 1980s and '90s were good, and because they were good and translatable to the U.S. market, all of our top directors have gone to work there," she said.

Shi also dismissed suggestions that the film industries of various Asian nations might be able to put aside their national differences in order to consolidate their skills and challenge Hollywood.