Tokyo Film Festival: Japan, China Working Toward Landmark Co-Production Treaty

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The two Asian economic giants will also launch a joint film screening exchange program over the coming months to commemorate the resumption of diplomatic ties 45 years ago.

Growing cultural exchange between China and Japan is emerging as the takeaway theme of the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival.

On the event's second day, Japanese officials revealed that the two nations are in advanced talks to establish a bilateral film co-production treaty. Given the scale of the Chinese and Japanese film markets — the world's second- and third-largest box offices, respectively, trailing only North America — any such agreement could have far-reaching repercussions for both nations' film industries, not to mention the broader international movie sector at large.

At a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's deputy cabinet secretary, said negotiations on a bilateral treaty began last December and are now nearing completion. No precise timeline for the signing of an agreement was provided, however.

The Tokyo Film Festival has been promoting the upcoming fantasy film Legend of the Demon Cat as an example of the kind of output that greater cross-border collaboration might help facilitate.

The film, a rare official China-Japan co-production, features a mixed Japanese and Chinese cast, is based on a Japanese novel and is directed by one of China's most esteemed filmmakers, Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine). A 15-minute sneak peak of the picture was shown in Tokyo on the festival's opening day.

Co-production treaties typically entail mutual access to national incentives and subsidies, and greater market access on each side. In China's case, co-production status also entails exception from Beijing's strict quota on film imports, which could be a considerable boon for Japanese film producers.

Japanese and Chinese films already are getting increased exposure on one another's screens. In January, Japanese animation Your Name completed a history-making run in the Middle Kingdom, pulling in $83.7 million. And Jackie Chan's Skiptrace held its local premiere in Tokyo just last month. China's biggest box-office hit ever and 2017 Oscar submission, Wolf Warrior II, meanwhile, is set to get theatrical release in Japan this weekend.

The Asian neighbors are looking to deepen this trend with a new film exchange initiative, which was also announced Tuesday. Ten Japanese films, including Naomi Kawase’s Radiance and Daihachi Yoshida’s A Beautiful Star, are set to be screened in the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Kunming, beginning in December. Those releases will be followed by 10 Chinese titles shown in three Japanese cities — Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya — starting in March 2018. Some of the directors and casts of the films will also attend the releases as cultural ambassadors.

Co-hosted by the Japan Foundation, UniJapan and the Shanghai International Film & TV Festival, the initiative is meant to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic ties between China and Japan following World War II.

The boosted cultural collaboration indeed represents a notable detente for the two Asian powers. Although their cultural heritage and economic interests are deeply intertwined, the countries remain locked in a series of territorial disputes and hold vastly different interests in the North Korean missile crisis.