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Industry Scrambling After Japan Earthquake

March 21, 2011

In the film Eclair an old Japanese-styled theater in the downtown of Miyagi prefecture serves as a symbolic sign of the country’s post-war state in the late 1940s.

After the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan last week, the famous suburban theater is last to be seen in this film.

Miyagi prefecture was the worst-hit area of the quake and thousands of people are dead and missing, including the staff who participated in the film. The theater in the film was demolished as well.

“Many citizens of Miyagi supported this film,” said the director Akio Kondo, who was at Hong Kong’s Filmart to promote his latest film Monday. “We can’t see the beautiful scenery of this area anymore.”

In Tokyo some theaters were closed due to power shortages and security concerns. Guest appearances for opening films were called off.

“It has damaged our local box office,” said Tadayuki Okubo, manager of international sales at Toei Co., Japan’s distributor which has multiplex theaters across the country.

Disaster films including Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock, which was set for release this week, and Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter were delayed indefinitely as the content reminding images of the quake were considered “inappropriate” for local audiences.

Compared to the scale of the disaster, however, the presence of Japanese film companies in Hong Kong’s Filmart was relatively smooth.

Out of 19 Japanese film companies who were scheduled to attend the market, only two cancelled their trip, according to UniJapan, which hosts the Tokyo International Film Festival every year.

“It was the first time that Tokyo had been damaged this badly,” says Azusa Soya, executive producer of International Promotion at UniJapan.

“It will take another two or three months before we get back to our normal life.”

UniJapan currently has no plans for funding theaters or films that have been damaged through the disaster.

The Sendai area is known for its scenic nature, and attracted a number of Japanese films for location shooting. Golden Slumber by Yoshihiro Nakamura was one of them.

Already, discontent is growing in some companies who think the government is reacting too slowly. Since the earthquake, Tokyo’s major TV stations stopped broadcasting TV commercials, and replaced dramas and variety shows with news.

For Takaaki Tak Ezaki, sales director of international business affairs at Tsuburaya, a Tokyo-based producer of TV animation and live-action films, such decisions cause more loss and confusion in the already-damaged Japanese entertainment industry. “We should get back to normal life,” he says.

Tokyo International Anime Fair, which was originally scheduled to open on Thursday, was cancelled last week. The festival’s organizer announced on the website Monday that the decision was made because power supplies are uncertain and traffic accessibility is unclear.

“Already we lost the opportunity to introduce our new productions to our buyers,” says Ezaki, of the company famous for producing Ultraman. “We’re trying to catch up in Hong Kong.”

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