The chief executive of a Tokyo financial management company launched in late September hopes her new business saves Japanese films from a long slump.
“Full-fledged and clear production accounting is necessary to boost films in Japan and to invite investors from countries that have such cost management practices,” said Natsuko Nezu, CEO of Entertainment Partners Asia.
Since she became involved in a Japan-U.S. filmmaking team as an aide in 1991, Nezu has seen U.S. colleagues frustrated by Japan’s perfunctory accounting practices, which the Japanese themselves call “domburi kanjo,” a derisive term roughly meaning ballpark figures.
Some Japanese filmmakers compile a rough accounting report after their lengthy projects, which sponsors have allowed them to do.
“But these practices can lead potential foreign sponsors to lose interest in Japanese film,” said Nezu, 32.
In November 1998, the Nagoya native launched a private agency as a Japanese representative of Los Angeles-based Entertainment Partners Services Group, which claims the top share of the U.S. film accounting market with its specially developed computer software. Nezu has since introduced a comprehensive accounting sheet that covers expenses and can be updated weekly.
She has been involved in several Japanese films, including “Brother,” the latest work by prize-winning director Takeshi Kitano.
She reorganized her firm into a stock company on Sept. 25, the only licensed affiliate in Asia.
Japanese films won 31.9 percent of total domestic distribution sales in 1999, and over the past 10 years, foreign films have gotten more than half of the market, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan.
In a 1999 ranking released by the association, four U.S. films swept the top four sales slots in Japan, with “Armageddon” earning 8.4 billion yen — more than double that of fifth-place Japanese film “Pocket Monsters.”
“I got interested in film production accounting after a 1994 trip to the United States to help a South Korean film director with one of his projects,” she said.
The director, Shin Sang Ok, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978 and made films for Kim Jong Il, now the North Korean leader, before fleeing to the U.S. and seeking political asylum eight years later.
“After working together for three months, he suggested that I learn production accounting. He knew it was a new idea in Japan,” she said.
Shin, born in 1926, graduated from the Tokyo Fine Arts School, the predecessor of Japan’s leading Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
“He knew that I had little experience in something creative such as acting or cinematography, and that even talented women had difficulty finding jobs in Japanese society,” she said.
“Soon after I started general accounting training, I found it interesting and thought a person who is familiar with accounting and understands the feelings of filmmakers could help Japanese films find new sponsors.”
Japan’s leading production group for animated films, Studio Ghibli, introduced the new accounting system last fall, when it began producing two films simultaneously for the first time in its 20-year history.
Ghibli, led by renowned cartoonist and director Hayao Miyazaki, has had 11 hits since 1984, including “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke,” which set the distribution sales record for a Japanese film at 11 billion yen in 1997.
Tatsuya Masubuchi, who joined Nezu’s company as managing director, said, “Objective accounting will be a priority.”
Based on eight years working for Japan’s leading advertisement agency, Dentsu Inc., Masubuchi, 32, believes more people will raise funds to make films.
“Such people or companies will need a sophisticated accounting sheet like ours for accountability to investors,” he said.
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