OSAKA — Foreign filmmakers shun it for its high cost and lack of cooperation from authorities, while Japanese directors decry its dearth of sophistication and talent.
The Kansai region, the capital of the nation’s film industry in the ’60s, has since found itself relegated to the cinematic backwaters.
After shooting scenes for “Black Rain” in Osaka in 1989, director Ridley Scott was highly vocal in his criticisms of Osaka, particularly the police, who refused shooting permits for locations, told him where to put his cameras and were less than diligent in keeping people from wandering on sets during shooting.
Unlike New York, Paris or Hong Kong, Japan’s cities have been slow in recognizing the benefits of hosting major film productions. It wasn’t until three years ago that city planners began to consider setting up liaison offices. There are now 20 film commissions in cities including Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Kitakyushu.
The first of these was the Osaka Film Council, established in February 2000 as a branch of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Its purpose, promotional materials state, was to “attract filmmakers from overseas and Japan to select sites in Osaka as shooting locations for motion pictures, TV dramas or commercial films.”
Also behind its inception was a feeling on the part of the Osaka business community and government that something needed to be done to counter a negative image.
“After Black Rain, Osaka had a bad reputation in Hollywood,” said Emi Watanabe, spokeswoman for the council. “It became widely thought that Japan was a difficult place to shoot. No crews came to Osaka after that. But little was done until a few years ago, as the city was busy pursuing the 2008 Olympics and World Cup (soccer finals).”
With an annual budget of only 10 million yen and a staff of three, the council basically helps filmmakers find locations and permission to shoot.
To date, its staff has been involved in over 50 projects, including the latest Godzilla sequel and a film currently being shot at Koshien Stadium called “Mr. Rookie,” for which the council secured thousands of extras.
“The hardest thing for us is not just finding a location but arranging the times,” Watanabe said. “They want to shoot tomorrow, in a specific place. But most of the facilities we introduce ask us to give them time to prepare.
“Some filmmakers don’t care whether they shoot in Tokyo or Osaka but are more concerned with getting permission. Although they are not required to go through us, since we are a branch of the OCCI it is easier for us to get permission, especially from hospitals and schools.”
The most popular site for film and television shoots in Osaka is the Dotonburi area, followed by Kansai International Airport, Tsutenkaku and the Umeda Sky Building.
Though most places do not charge for the use of their facilities, some do. The airport, for example, charges fees depending on the length of the shoot and the degree of disruption caused.
If the script calls for a scene in a subway station or train platform, it is almost impossible to get permission in Osaka. Subway and train lines are privately run and officials contacted by The Japan Times said they are reluctant to cooperate with film or television productions because of safety and scheduling concerns.
If a film requires scenes to be shot along a public street, one must obtain a permit from local police. Though it costs a mere 2,000 yen, obtaining the permit, says Watanabe, can still be tricky.
Police review such requests on a case-by-case basis. Unless the crew is from a major studio, permission is usually denied since it means closing off streets and hence dealing with angry residents.
“We are thinking of getting together with other film commissions and approaching the police about permission for certain types of shooting,” said Watanabe. “If it is just the Osaka council requesting permission, it’s rather weak.”
Despite its efforts to attract production crews to Osaka, at least one filmmaker feels the council’s services are woefully inadequate.
Patrice Boiteau, a 13-year resident of Osaka and the founder of the Osaka European Film Festival, approached the council about funding and technical support for a film he originally hoped to begin production on this month.
“Perhaps it was a problem in terminology,” Boiteau said. “In France and Germany, a film council, or commission, helps in every aspect of a film, from location scouting to securing funding. To do that, you must know about film and the film industry. The council doesn’t know what they are, aesthetically or technically. They know nothing.
“It’s not the fault of staff but the people who made the decision (to hire them). It’s nonsense. How can they support you if they don’t know about the industry?”