New films directed by John Woo and Chen Kaige among Japanese co-productions making headway in China

(YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There has been a noticeable increase in cooperation between people in the film production industry in Japan and China, particularly when it comes to remakes of Japanese blockbusters and joint productions between the two countries.

China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest film market. Though there is still a risk that Japanese film companies may be affected by unstable Japan-China relations, it seems that the time has come for Japanese firms to conduct profitable business in China.

At a press conference held in January in Beijing, actor Masaharu Fukuyama said happily: "Finally, I've been able to come to China for a film project."

Fukuyama plays the lead role in Manhunt directed by John Woo, which is a remake of a Japanese movie Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare (You Must Cross The River Of Wrath). The new film was entirely shot in Japan.

The Japanese original starring Ken Takakura is a special movie for China. It was the first foreign film publicly shown in the nation after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Screened in 1978, it became an unprecedented hit nationwide. The Beijing press conference was attended by reporters from more than 100 Chinese media outlets.

The Japanese comedy Kazoku wa Tsurai yo (What A Wonderful Family!), directed by Yoji Yamada, was remade by Chinese director Huang Lei. A Chinese producer who is an acquaintance of Yamada's wanted to remake the original, thinking that its theme — divorce in middle age — would be well received worldwide. He made his final decision after watching spectators' reactions when the original movie was shown at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June 2016.

In December — only half a year later — Yamada attended a press conference for the remake in Beijing. He said: "I had thought [the production of the remake] would be two or three years later. I think this indicates how vibrant China's movie industry is."

International relations affect market

Behind this rise in film remakes is the rapid growth of China's movie market.

China's box-office sales in 2016 amounted to about 45.7 billion yuan (about S$9.35 billion). This figure was more than three times that of Japan's. It is predicted that the Chinese figure will soon surpass that of the United States, which would make China the world's largest movie market.

Last year, however, the growth showed signs of slowing down.

Liu Wenbing, a researcher on Japanese films who has authored such books as Nitchu Eiga Koryushi (History of Japan-China exchanges through movies), said: "A major reason is the decrease in the number of Chinese movies that can lure large numbers of people to movie theaters. To get out of this sluggish state, there have been active attempts to learn from Japan's film production know-how."

In China, the annual number of foreign films allowed to be shown in theaters has been limited, with the aim of protecting the domestic film industry. In recent years, the number of Japanese movies shown publicly in China have been few partly because of worsening relations between the two countries.

But in 2016, 11 Japanese films were shown in China. They included "Biri Gyaru" (Flying Colors: How A Teen Girl Went From Academic Absurdity To An Elite University In One Amazing Year) and Kimi no Na wa (Your Name.).

Liu said: "Japanese manga, anime, TV dramas and novels have taken root in Chinese society. There are many Chinese producers who think that if they can obtain Japanese content, they will be able to lure large numbers of people to movie theaters."

Kadokawa Corp., which has long paid attention to the Chinese market, will produce "Ku-Kai" as a Japan-China joint production to be directed by Chen Kaige.

The story is based on a novel by Baku Yumemakura. Shota Sometani plays the lead character, Kukai. Hiroshi Abe is also part of the cast. It is a big film with a production cost of ¥15 billion (S$185 million).

In October last year, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua attended a press conference about the movie that was held in Japan. Regarding films produced jointly by Japan and China in the past, he said they have "played a big role in deepening mutual understanding and friendly ties between the people of the two countries".

The Japanese government also aims to begin talks with China over an accord for joint film productions.

Yusuke Okada, chairman of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, said: "The sense of resistance (in China) toward showing Japanese movies in theaters has been removed. The trend will likely go in a favorable direction with the help of the government."