Independant filmmaking in Japan

The pulsating district of Shinjuku in Tokyo. The rendezvous is given to the north of the station (which is also a shopping center), under the giant screen. I’m half an hour late because I must admit that the thousands flicking images and multicolored neon makes me a little dizzy. Daisuke Miyazaki introduces himself: he shares his name with a famous filmmaker, but the comparison stops there because Daisuke is above all an independent filmmaker, a real one. But what is a true independent exactly?

To produces his films, he leads his own production company. Being completely independent of the financial strength of large international consortia has a price: that of being dependent on its economy of life. If he does not lose money with his activity of producer-director-distributor, he specifies not to earn much either and hardly cover his expenses with his films, which he diffuses nevertheless abroad. They spend in festivals and also in the few independent Japanese arthouse movie theatre that, he says, still exist.

But what have become of neighborhood movie theatre that I have hardly seen when visiting the country? “There are still some here and there, but in general, cinema in Japan is over.” A little stunned, I start an inventory of these Nippon filmmakers who wrote the national story. Yes, they are many but, Daisuke argues, all that is over. On the one hand there are the big films of the studios, the television films, the animated films, the industrial branch of the entertainment. On the other hand, what we call in France the cinema of the “middle” no longer exists.

“Middle films” are, a thing difficult to conceive of as a unified entity. In a article wrote in 2009, Alexandre Olivier reminded us that it was an implicit notion between “the poor and the rich”, “the ambitious and the conventional”, but especially a fragile “biotope” where to coexist artistic ambitions with perennial economic models, where renowned authors rises. “» 1.. Beyond this undefined frame, the middle films symbolizes a certain idea of ​​French cinema characterized by a singular artistic autonomy. The middle films largely owe their existence to the CNC’s redistribution system, which makes Daisuke humorously say that Japanese filmmakers may be in the diaspora, which France is at the promised land (without, however, it is the best country to live in).

In any case, this testimony of a passionate filmmaker who admits that his choice of life is perhaps not the ideal way to happiness, puts in perspective many things. In a global context of precarisation of the workers and the economy of the cinema, this model of self-producer seems to rises as a model of independent entrepreneur left on its own. Therefore the democratization of digital tools is both a boon and a burden; a boon because it allows to develop an artistic work and a burden because it requires to work as ten for the same result. Like others, Daisuke assumes the functions of a whole team going from screenwriter to distributor. He is not alone and many technicians come to work with him never the less, mostly for friendship and the love of art. Finally, Daisuke manages to broadcast his films at festivals and in a few independent cinemas theaters, where other independent Asian filmmakers embark on the adventure of VOD platforms (Netflix & co). A new economy of micro-budget cinema is thus created where entrepreneurs assume almost alone the risk-taking of their artistic research, assuming in some ways an uberized function of “research and development” of the cinema world without benefiting from economic benefits, however prolific, of the dream factory.


Alexandre, Olivier. « Le cinéma du milieu ou le peuple introuvable », Mouvements, vol. 57, no. 1, 2009, pp. 37-43.

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