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#Tokyo: Japan’s New Production Incentives Scheme Dominate MPA Seminar

Japan’s new production incentives scheme dominated the talk at the Motion Picture Association’s special talk session at the Tokyo International Film Festival on Wednesday.  

Officially launched in September, the 1 billion yen ($6.7 million) per project scheme is by far the largest from Japan to date, although it is smaller than the production incentives offered by many other countries, most notably Thailand.

Despite the push by Japan’s government to attract more international film and TV production to the country, the clear message from this year’s MPA seminar was that the scheme needs to be expanded and made permanent if Japan is not to lose out on major projects. The seminar focused on how to make the country more attractive to overseas projects, the economic benefits they deliver, as well as the boost to the domestic production industry.

In addition to an international panel of industry guests, senior government figures Akira Amari and Futoshi Nasuno, both of whom are involved in content policy, addressed the gathered audience, along with representatives from the U.S. Embassy, Japan Business Federation and the MPA, as well as festival chairman Hiroyasu Ando.

The importance for Japan of production incentives in a global marketplace where they have become commonplace was a recurring theme of the event and addressed by producer Georgina Pope, in her opening keynote speech.

Pope, who has worked with numerous overseas productions in Japan, noted that beyond incentives, there remain issues around getting permits to shoot in some locations that still leave crews testing the boundaries of legality.  

“The world is in love with Japan right now,” said Pope pointing to the recent spate of high profile film and TV projects that have been set in Japan, but she lamented the fact that the country is not fully leveraging that global interest.

Ruriko Sekine of the Japan Film Commission emphasized in her speech the big local spends of productions such as Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins and Tokyo Vice, along with the opportunities for local crews to learn from working alongside a director like Michael Mann.

Pope and Sekine were joined for the panel discussion by producer and Rhombus Media founder Niv Fichman and director for content in APAC at Netflix Debra Richards. Fichman explained how the generous rebates offered by Thailand had made shooting the upcoming HBO series The Sympathizer in the country instead of Vietnam (where the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel source material is set) a “no-brainer.”

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of this year’s Tokyo Film Festival, Bangkok-based American producer Nicholas Simon expounded on how Thailand had become a stand-in for several Asian countries and how Japan lacked many of the features found in the Southeast Asian country that eased Hollywood production.

While the panelists welcomed Japan’s new incentives, they emphasized that it would sometimes be in direct competition with Thailand’s rebate of up to 25 percent of local spend, a figure that may rise to 30 percent in the future.

Richards also noted how Netflix and other major international productions had boosted local industries both financially and in terms of skill transfer.  

During a Q&A with the audience, the incentives topic was again on the floor, with filmmakers and others from the industry expressing their hopes for a sustained and simplified scheme from the Japanese government.

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