International Business Themes Dominate Tokyo Market Seminars

Cross-border business and cooperation were the themes of the panel discussions and seminars on the opening day of the TIFFCOM content market in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The seminars kicked off with an explanation of Japan's co-production subsidy system presented by ACE Co-Production Lab and UniJapan, the quasi-governmental body that oversees certification for eligibility.

The organizers pointed out that two films being officially screened at the festival, Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed Alpha and Mamoru Oshii's Garm Wars – The Last Druid, received financial help through the co-production subsidy system.

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A short presentation from UniJapan laying out the criteria and subsidy process was followed by a Q&A session, which saw questions from overseas filmmakers and producers who are interested in, or already cooperating with, Japanese partners.

Elsewhere, speakers from Bandai Namco explained how the company has leveraged the highly successful Gundam robot franchise into TV anime, movies, video games, manga and toys, including growing sales overseas.

The first afternoon session was "Southeast Asian Visual Contents: The Present and Future in Film-TV Market," featuring a panel with people from across the region.

Asian content dominates on TV networks in emerging regional markets, such as Myanmar and Cambodia, due to the relatively high cost of imports from Western countries, explained panelists from those countries. However, in theaters Hollywood does better, and it also dominates in Indonesia, according to Nora Mediana from local distributor Moxienotion.

"But the growing number of theater screens means that there is increasing demand for content, particularly from Asia. We recently released the second part of Ruroni Kenshin [a Japanese samurai franchise that has been a hit at the domestic box office] in Indonesia, which went over well," explained Mediana.

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In Malaysia, which is both more technologically advanced and boasts an ethnically diverse population, a wide range of content distributed to multiple screens is the order of business, according to Teng Lee Yein of Astro Malaysia Holdings.

The day's final seminar, entitled "Initiatives for the Development of Content Industry in Each Country and the Asian Region: Possible Cooperation in the Asian Region," continued the day's core theme of cross-border collaboration with a lively discussion of the challenges and opportunities offered by the co-production model in various territories throughout Asia.

Takayuki Hayakawa, general producer at Japan's Fuji Television Network, began the session by noting that the "golden age" of TV is typically cited as beginning in the late 1990s, but he believes the current century will continue to generate abundant high-quality content for consumers, as countries -- particularly in Asia -- "take greater advantage of the business opportunities between countries and leverage the potential of new technologies."

He cited HBO's and CBS's recent announcements that they will each be launching standalone streaming video services as examples of the ongoing revolution underway in the industry.

Hayakawa said Fuji Television has endeavored to look for growth opportunities outside Japan's mature market, whatever the challenges. In 2012, Japan exported no TV dramas to China, due to a flare-up of political tension between the two countries.

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"We continue to face geopolitical challenges today," Hayakawa said, "but this year 27 dramas have been sold to China -- it's possible to find a way."

He noted the recent successful Japan-China co-production Mysterious Summer as an example what's possible when the two Asian economic powerhouses commit to working together. The show, backed by Fuji TV and distributed on the Chinese streaming video site, iQuiyi, features a Chinese and Japanese cast and was shot in Chinese but helmed by a Japanese director. The show has been viewed 60 million times on iQuiyi, Hayakawa said.

"There were challenges involved in having a Japanese director, who only speaks Japanese, work with an all Chinese production staff, but there's a very big opportunity in working with China," he added.

Twitter: @GavinJBlair