Japan’s Film Productions and Theaters Make Shaky Restart
One of the first to pick up his camera — or rather his smartphone — was Shinichiro Ueda, the director of the smash zombie comedy “One Cut of the Dead.” Released on two Tokyo screens in June of 2018, the film went on to earn $29 million – or more than 1,000 times its $25,000 budget.
This April, Ueda reassembled the original cast members to reprise their characters for “Don’t Stop the Camera! Remote Operation!,” a comedy short now on YouTube. They remotely gather to help a beleaguered director (Takayuki Hamatsu), who battled zombies in “One Cut of the Dead,” put together a documentary.
Also quick to adapt was Shinji Higuchi, the co-director of the 2014 megahit “Shin Godzilla.” A longtime fan of kaiju (monsters), Higuchi launched “Kaiju Defeat Covid,” a video project in which contributors use the powers of their favorite kaiju to ‘magically’ beat the coronavirus, with contributor clips combined to make short films.
One contributor, director Shunji Iwai, partnered with actor/director Takumi Saitoh to make “The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8,” a twelve-part series of shorts featuring Saitoh as his real self in isolation, dealing with three tiny ‘capsule kaiju’ as they grow and morph.
But as big as the names are on these and other ‘isolated’ projects, they add nothing to the now heavily depleted coffers of industry players. Mighty Toho has withdrawn its slate of would-be summer blockbusters from the theaters, while arthouse owners that were barely hanging on before the crisis started have indulged in crowdfunding for survival.
Some ‘mini theaters’ (arthouses) are undergoing another kind of meltdown. Five former employees of theatre operator Uplink are suing Uplink president Takashi Asai, a leading figure in the indie sector, or the company. They accuse him of insulting behavior and abuse of power. After they held a press conference on Tuesday he issued a grovelling written apology. “I deeply repent and apologize for my inappropriate words and actions. I will respond sincerely to the decision resulting from this case.”
TV networks have been relatively fast to reboot — no surprise given their voracious need for content.
On May 30 the TV Asahi network announced that it had started filming again on seven shows, including the “Kamen Rider Zero-One” and “Mashin Sentai Kiramager” series about superheroes battling kaiju, a genre called tokusatsu (“live-action special effects”). Guidelines are in place to assure the safety of cast and crew, such as limiting the numbers of actors involved in action scenes. In addition to the shows, a Kamen Rider/Mashin Sentai double feature will open in theaters on July 31.
Also, on June 16 public broadcaster NHK resumed shooting on “Yell,” a serial drama based on the life of mid-20th Century composer Yuji Koseki, ending a shutdown that began on April 1. Production will follow an NHK manual for coronavirus safety. Meanwhile, production on another NHK serial, “Ochoyan,” will resume on June 22.
Now in demand after her breakthrough starring role in “One Cut of the Dead,” Harumi Shuhama says she is happy to be before the cameras again. “I’m being very careful about keeping everything clean,” she adds. “I’m not worried about being on the set. We have to restart the economy and the arts while being careful in various ways.”
Kanji Furutachi, another popular character actor, was recently on the set for an NHK show. “They’re doing what they can, but I was a little worried about a young director who was talking loudly through his face mask,” he says with a laugh. “What’s going to happen when everything else starts up again? Every set is different; it’s like not America and other countries that have labor unions.”