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Cool Japan: Gov't, regions team up to attract large-scale foreign filmmaking

A stunt performer is seen leaping into the air during the shooting of an explosion scene in the city of Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, on Nov. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Shizuka Takebayashi)

URESHINO, Saga -- Japan's Cabinet Office, the Saga Prefecture Film Commission and others making efforts to attract the shooting of epic films, including foreign movies, are working together to create an environment for such large-scale projects.

    As part of their efforts to attract movie makers, test filming of an explosive scene was conducted in this southwestern Japan city on Nov. 9, and another scene was shot on Nov. 17. Such footage will be revealed during a regional version of the Cool Japan Promotion Council meeting to be held in the city of Saga by the Cabinet Office and others on Dec. 15.

    A stunt performer took a great leap as a fire pillar shot into the sky during the making of a car chase scene using flames and smoke outside of the former Ureshino Medical Center site that is planned to be dismantled. The parking lot turned white from the explosion, but that is not problematic as the area is already abandoned. Noise can hardly become a problem as there aren't many private homes near the site.

    A car chase scene is filmed in the city of Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, on Nov. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Shizuka Takebayashi)

    The Cabinet Office, aiming to attract foreign filmmaking in Japan, is working together with local governments and film commissions across the nation to prepare such an environment. To conduct large-scale filmmaking, various legal regulations need to be overcome -- such as getting permission to use roads and generate smoke as well as handle explosives. Gaining locals' understanding is also essential to deal with noise problems and traffic regulations.

    The Cabinet Office in August drew up guidelines for such filmmaking along with the National Police Agency, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and others. It compiled information needed to apply for a filming permit to facilitate procedures for movie makers even in places that have never been used before. Their effort is part of the Cool Japan initiative to spread the charms of the country's regions across the globe.

    A Cabinet Office representative said, "We would like to create an environment of high standards to accept filmmakers across Japan," and explained that it aims to increase inbound tourists in those locations and boost regional revitalization.

    The Saga Prefecture Film Commission that has experience in attracting Southeast Asian movies also cooperated with this movement. It searched for candidate sites and made arrangements with the local bodies. A prefectural government official commented, "We would like to spread the charm of Saga Prefecture and hope for the movie culture to expand its base."

    Video artist Kenta Nagayoshi, a 48-year-old originally from the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Iizuka and now a resident of Tokyo, is one of the core members of the large-scale filmmaking project. As an elementary school student, he got absorbed in the TV drama series "Seibu Keisatsu," which features spectacular explosion scenes, and aspired to become involved in the image industry.

    In recent years, Nagayoshi has been putting efforts into activities in Fukuoka's Chikuho region, which has former coal mining sites and other places suitable for filming. He is also involved in revitalizing local towns by holding events including ones in which visitors can watch explosive scenes up close, and ones where participants can experience shooting firearms and bazookas that are used in filmmaking.

    Nagayoshi has targeted abandoned sites and other places, and said, "By making effective use of such locations, they could become tourist attractions if we can hold events using explosions." He added, "We can film explosive scenes thanks to the cooperation from locals in the region. I hope to attract filmmaking (to the region) and get locals to enjoy seeing the process like a festival."

    Ureshino Mayor Daisuke Murakami, who observed the test shooting on Nov. 9, said, "I love how action movies give off an exhilarating feeling. I would like to work together with the national government and other bodies to attract filmmakers here and create an opportunity for many people to come visit Ureshino."

    (Japanese original by Shizuka Takebayashi, Saga Bureau)

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