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Making the cut in Japan’s film industry

by Mio Yamada

Staff Writer

Name: Yukie Kito
Age: Way past “Christmas cake”
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Film producer
Likes: Peace, love, red beans
Dislikes: War, hate, liver and offal


1. What exactly does a film producer do? The main things a producer is supposed to do include raising finances, casting, working with the writer and director on the script and marketing the film. But it varies by the project. I never like to be on camera but when we can’t afford many background artists, I’ll do it as a producer’s responsibility. I’ve played all kinds of roles, from a homeless person to a TV reporter.

2. How did you get interested in film? When I was small, I was interested in life overseas. Film was a tool for me to experience the outside world. I remember I was blown away by the beautiful landscape cinematography in “Gone with the Wind.”

3. What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? Supporting the director’s vision of the film fully, while I maintain not only the perspective of the audience but also my own. I’d like the director to be satisfied with his or her work and be sure the film is embraced by the audience.

4. If you were to be the inspiration for a film, what genre would it be and who would you cast? Comedy with Sandra Oh. A story about a woman who lives life through culture difference, generation difference and gender difference. Sandra’s husband Alexander Payne could direct it.

5. Are there any differences working on a Japanese film to that of another country? Maybe a major difference is the union system. In many countries, working hours are controlled by union regulations. Here, without such a union and with limited time and money, or other issues, the working hours can often be very long. Some directors have been trying to change this. I find it it’s important to keep reasonable working hours so that the quality of labor and the motivation of the crew remains high — that benefits the end result of the film production.

6. You must work with a lot of sensitive egos. What’s that like? My films are viewed as “quality” or art films as opposed to commercial films and people who work on these know we can’t afford the time for egos. But I welcome creative discussion.

7. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever done on set? I once had to be a stand-in for the rehearsal of a sex scene. That was funny. An assistant director and I played the scene — both fully-dressed — while the director choreographed us.

8. You’ve worked on some scary horrors, including “Flight 7500” and “Sakebi” (“Retribution”), but what personally gives you the chills? I don’t like the earthquakes. I experienced the LA (Northridge) one in 1994 and 3/11 here.

9. Online streaming — good or bad? It’s actually good that streaming is allowing a wider range of movies and TV series to be made and is creating more jobs for filmmakers. I still love the experience of going to the theater and watching films surrounded by strangers, though.

10. Why do you think Japanese film hasn’t quite made it as an international blockbuster industry? I think some mainstream Japanese films depend too much on the popularity of the novels or comic books that they are based on rather than the quality of the actual films.

11. What’s your criteria for choosing a project? A director whose vision I share and a story that speaks to me personally.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure? I enjoy watching cheesy action films, like “Universal Soldier 4,” or 5, 6, 7 …

13. What’s in your bag right now? Purse, umbrella and Haribo gummies.

14. Have you ever been star-struck by someone you work with? Koji Yakusho, who I work with often, is my hero. He is internationally known, especially for “Shall We Dance?,” and I can say he is the most respected actor in Japan now. Yet he is so humble and kind in person. He is what Japanese cinema can be proud of to show the world.

15. How important are film festivals to filmmakers? Very important. They offer an opportunity for us to be united with filmmakers from other cultures. This gives us a unique and open-minded perspective on our own work and also creates chances for international collaborations with filmmakers we don’t get to meet otherwise.

16. Have you ever been tempted to pack up your things and move to Hollywood? Actually, I lived in LA for 11 years. It’s where I started my film business career.

I moved back to Japan for family reasons. It was supposed to be temporary but I ended up liking it here. When I started working, though, co-workers called me “gaijin,” because I was too opinionated and didn’t follow the unwritten rules of the Japanese entertainment business.

17. Best place in Japan for you to get away from it all? Kamakura, where I spent my youth.

18. What advice would give yourself as a teenager? It’s okay to believe in yourself.

19. Are you a cat or a dog person? Dog — they seem more friendly.

20. What’s next? I am working on a project with a renowned Japanese director on an international subject that I’ve been interested in for the past 20 years. I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it, though — it’s still at an early stage. Fingers crossed!