Independent Scene Thrives on Big Screen

By Schilling, Mark | Variety, May 20, 2017 | Go to article overview

Independent Scene Thrives on Big Screen


Schilling, Mark, Variety


The Japanese indie sector would seem to be thriving, if numbers are the sole criterion. Last year, 610 domestic films were released, according to figures compiled by the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan. By far the majority were indie films shown in only a scattering of venues across the country. But at least they had theatrical releases, which is not the case in many developed-world markets where Hollywood and local commercial product rule, pushing indies to the margins.

Tokyo-based producer, distributor and sales agent Adam Torel, whose credits include the 2016 indie hit "Lowlife Love" - a no-holds-barred comic look at the lower reaches of the Japanese film business - calls Japan a paradise for indie filmmakers.

"In the U.K. it's almost impossible for even mid-budget indie films to get a theatrical release due to the current lack of theatrical holdbacks [whether geographical or for windowing]," says Torel, whose Third Window Films DVD label has a U.K. presence.

"In Japan, there are still proper holdbacks, which allow for strong theatrical releases, plus VOD and Netflix have not worked well here so the video-rental market is also incredibly strong."

Yet another factor working in indies' favor, adds Torel, are the many "mini theaters" (arthouses) in Tokyo and elsewhere showing indie films, frequently to packed houses. "This allows for even $5,000-budget student films to get shown not just once or twice, but for weeks in cinemas," he says.

Torel should know: "Lowlife Love" played for months around the country following its April 2016 bow with director Eiji Uchida and the film's stars often in attendance at screenings.

One factor in the indie surge - at the beginning of the decade only 408 local films were released - is the emergence of crowdfunding. Once derided by some in the industry as a sort of glorified begging for otherwise unsalable projects, crowdfunding is now central to many Japanese filmmakers' production and promotion strategies.

The best-known recent example is Sunao Katabuchi's "In This Corner of the World," a feature animation about a young woman coming of age in prewar Hiroshima and wartime Kure, a nearby port, based on a comic by a Hiroshima native Fumiyo Kouno. Katabuchi struggled for years to get the film made, with potential backers rejecting it as uncommercial. …

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