Japan's film commissions put spotlight on regional cities


Japan’s regional revitalization efforts have come into the spotlight in a new way, with film commissions promoting parts of the nation through location scouting and production assistance.

Usually set up as nonprofit organizations, the commissions help filmmakers obtain permits to shoot in public places, such as streets and parks, and assist with finding accommodation, extras, and other logistical matters.

“Gantz Perfect Answer,” a 2011 Japanese science fiction movie, received help finding locations from one such organization in Kobe prior to filming.

One intense scene in the film featuring several young actors, including Kazunari Ninomiya, a member of popular boy band Arashi, was filmed at the former site of Kobe’s central wholesale market, which was transformed to look like the scene following a bomb explosion.

Film commissioners admit that attracting filmmakers and responding to their needs is a constant struggle, but once new projects are secured, it pays off.

In 2014, a survey showed 278 film commissions operated in Japan.

The production of “Gantz Perfect Answer” in Kobe was beneficial not only to those involved in the project but also to local businesses.

Kobe’s film commissioners assisted in finding accommodation for 150 crew members who stayed in the city for about a month, as well as production assistants and food catering.

In all, the production spent more than ¥100 million in the city over that time.

Meanwhile, a film commission from Kitakyushu that has attracted more than 200 film crews to the city so far has also contributed to the city’s branding campaign.

Projects filmed in the city included the 2009 Japanese title “Oppai Volley” (“Breast Volleyball”), starring Haruka Ayase as a teacher who inspired a schoolboy volleyball team by promising to show them her breasts if they won.

The movie was adapted from a novel by Munenori Mizuno that was apparently based on a true story that took place in Shizuoka Prefecture. The location was changed in the script to Kitakyushu, and some of the city’s famous sites and landmarks made an appearance.

A commissioner who was involved in the project said it had helped change the image of a city once known for violent underworld groups.

The commissioner also said 30 percent of respondents in a survey of young local residents said they were proud of their city being used as a film location.

“The service and . . . assistance are amazing, which is why people come here,” director Takashi Yamazaki, who worked with Kitakyushu’s commission, said. “They will help close locations in the center of the city to facilitate the shooting of scenes with hundreds of people running around the area.”

A commission from Saga Prefecture, meanwhile, succeeded in attracting filmmakers from overseas. According to the commissioners, since 2013, when the Japanese government relaxed visa requirements for Thai nationals, the group managed to help organize five such projects.

The romantic comedy “Timeline,” which was partly filmed in Japan and was released in 2014, earned Thailand’s fifth-highest box-office takings that year. This has helped attract Thai tourists who have since been flocking to the city in chartered buses to see the sites used in the movie.

The number of Thai visitors who stayed in local accommodations rose to 5,190 in 2015, from 370 in 2013.

This has prompted local businesses to cater to the needs of the increasing number of foreign tourists.

“A local shrine where some of the scenes were filmed has introduced paper omikuji fortunes written in Thai and a kimono store in the area started rental services,” said one commissioner.