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Japan's reluctance to co-produce can be overcome.

I believe that co-productions between Japan and other countries are best described by my favorite saying: "Co-productions are like trying to eat a meal with chopsticks in your right hand and a fork in your left." Meaning, it takes so much time and effort to handle both sides, you don't notice what you're eating - or, in this case, co-producing.

In my mind, there are two main advantages to co-production, the most attractive of which is the cost savings. The other is cultural awareness and international sensitivity.

These advantages, however, are unobtainable unless each side understands and respects the other's cultural background.

Although generalizing, I'd like to give an idea of some basic differences between TV in Japan and say, the U.S., that would need to be acknowledged in a co-production: Television in Japan is emotional, visual, melodious, homogeneous, communal. While the U.S. television is investigative, logical, rhythmic, heterogeneous, individual.

It is these basic differences that must be kept close in mind, for any co-produced programs to be acceptable to viewers in both countries. Co-producers must also be keenly aware of the different definitions around the world of some very commonly used words and concepts: God, religion, original sin, miracle and paradise, for example.

What all this means though, is that a co-production will require far more time, preparation and effort than any other kind of production. Because of these differences, so far, most international co-productions with Japan have been either cartoons or documentaries on science or art, because these are easier to keep free of national or religious identities.

It is true that NHK is more positive toward co-productions than Japanese commercial networks. While most of NHK's international co-productions tend to be documentaries, every year they also co-produce dramas with such countries as Czechoslovakia, Britain and Germany. Although these dramas are usually of high quality, I personally wonder to what extent they attract Japanese TV viewers.

In short, by effectively utilizing set budgets and staff, co-productions can be an excellent way to produce large-scale programs. However, to be successful, both sides have to understand and accept the positive and the negative aspects of the venture. I am afraid that for NTV, as a commercial station, the disadvantages of co-productions outweight the advantages, leaving us a negative attitude toward them.

Then, is there a possibility for a Japanese initiative for co-productions?

My answer is no, except in special cases. The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo said that the Japan's image of Canada is exquisite lakes, forests and wild animals. For Japanese producers, Canada offers wonderful natural subjects for programs. Japanese crews regularly visit Canada to collect their own images of the country.

But, is it possible to broaden Japanese producers' images of Canada? Unfortunately, it doesn't look likely in the near future, because producers are tied to following the tastes of Japanese viewers.

Has there been a Canadian initiative for co-productions?

From my experience, yes. We have received requests from Canada, for either financial and personnel participation only, or for production plans on which we would bear half the production costs. Among the requests we have received to date, however, I regret to say that none have suited our programming standards or schedules.

My suggestions to potential foreign co-producers that want to reverse this situation are:

1. Carefully study the contents and trends in Japanese television and come up with ideas for programs that will appeal to Japanese viewers too, such as subjects that have something to do with Japan or Japanese people - that is, market approach.

2. Consider programs on music, fine arts, science, the future and general documentaries.

3. Establish contact with Japanese advertising agencies and production companies.

4. The audio-visual departments of Japanese trading companies were once a good avenue for co-producers. However, even they are now reportedly very reluctant to get involved in TV co-production because of losses they've seen in co-productions with Hollywood.

While most of my comments have been negative. I still believe positive chances exist for co-productions. And I sincerely hope they will be found.

Masami Takagishi is Nippon Television's production manager.
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Title Annotation:television broadcasting industry; co-productions between Japan and other countries
Author:Takagishi, Masami
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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