Table Speech

Making Movies Requires Ambition and Money

March 28, 2018

Ms. Yumiko Masuda
TV & Film Producer, Heisei Project Inc.

 Do you know the role of movie producers? I can say a movie producer is like a Chairman of a university, while a movie director is like a President. Movie producers supervise the whole project including financial and legal aspects whereas directors manage the shooting and editing process. Producers who do not belong to major production companies can go homeless by weak box office performance.

 I entered the film industry at age 40 with no experience. It was to keep my promise to my 10-year-old daughter who had won a role in a movie back then. The movie themed on the hard life children had to live through in a broken family. Filming was tough and on top of that, the production company had financial difficulties and failed to find a distribution company. My daughter was disappointed and said she wanted to quit acting. I tried my best to encourage her and promised to make a film with children in lead roles including my daughter. I withdrew 30 million yen from my bank account as an initial fund. I then elaborated on a plot and tried to sell it to the top three Japanese movie companies only to be rejected by all on the basis that I had no experience. I felt stuck. Just when I was about to give up, I learnt an Iranian movie “Children of Heaven” directed by Majid Majidi had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. My gut feeling told me I might have a chance with an Iranian movie company and so I flew to Iran the following week to meet the renowned director in person. I explained my plan to make a heartwarming movie starring Japanese and Iranian children themed on a Persian carpet. Upon receiving approval from Mr. Majidi to direct the film, I signed a provisional contract and even made the down payment. Unfortunately, this had a tragic consequence.

 I understand the role of movie producers is to decide on the structure of the film and its director, secure financial resources and sign a contract. I screwed up with the contract. After both the Japanese and Iranian lawyers discussed and reached an agreement on the contract, one clause was manipulated by the Iranian counterpart. I made a fatal mistake of overlooking the falsification and signing the contract which read “Iran possesses the worldwide sales rights”. When I showed this falsified contract to the distribution company back in Japan, they refused to make an investment. Desperate to have the contract revised, I flew to Iran by myself the following week. First, the Iranian side blamed me and asked for additional money to revise the contract. But I had already used up all my savings, sold my car and even mortgaged my house to get a loan. Overwhelmed by fury, I broke into tears and tore up the contract. The Iranian counterpart finally understood my determination and revised the contract though reluctantly. I am ashamed how unprofessional and ignorant I had been. But I learned much from this hard-won lesson which later helped when I made films jointly with South Korea and Qatar.

 “The Wind Carpet” jointly produced with Iran won 3 Awards at the 2003 Fajr International Film Festival. It also attracted much attention as the Special Invitation Work for the Tokyo International Film Festival but it didn’t become a big hit movie and I failed to pay back the investors. A renowned Japanese actor Mr. Rentaro Mikuni who kindly took part in the movie advised me to build on the network and experience I had gained and continue my career in the film industry. I made my second movie “Challenge for Craftsmen of the Heisei Era”, a documentary about craftsmen dedicated to restoring festival floats at my hometown Hida, Takayama. While many film experts warned me the movie wouldn’t sell, I succeeded in getting massive support by craftsmen across Japan and also sponsorship by a number of companies. I leant that if you have a strong message to tell, you can attract audience and support. I realized I wanted to become a modern storyteller by filmmaking and recount traditional events and philosophy of our predecessors to be handed down through many generations.

 “Beyond the Tsunami - Onagawa, Hearts Connected -” was released 2 years ago. This documentary filmed a miraculous recovery made at Onagawa Town in Miyagi Prefecture, famous for its large Pacific saury catch, which had suffered devastating damages by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Qatar was among the first countries to donate as much as 10 billion yen through the Qatar Friendship Fund that proved strong friendship built between the two countries. Qatar had become a major liquefied natural gas exporter thanks to Japan’s technical and economic assistance. Qatar contributed 2 billion yen to build a multifunctional fishery processing facility named “Maskar” (referring to a traditional Qatari fishing method) and spearheaded rehabilitation efforts in the disaster-stricken areas. I hope the movie would convey our gratitude to countries around the world for all the support rendered after the Earthquake.

 Now in my 17th year as a movie producer, I am working on a joint project with Russia hoping that culture will bridge political and religious differences between the two countries and further strengthen friendship. You need ambition and financial resources to make movies. My motto in movie making is to share “big dreams, high aspirations and enjoyment for work” with my colleagues. I will dedicate my energy and resources to convey people’s “sentiment” through images as a modern storyteller.