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Japan animation blockbuster sparks bittersweet tourism boom

A municipal library in the city of Hida, Gifu Prefecture, is said to have served as the model for a fictional library in the animated hit film "Kimi no Na wa" ("Your Name").

GIFU/NAGANO, Japan -- Fans of the Japanese animated blockbuster "Kimi no Na wa" ("Your Name") are flocking to locations thought to have been used in the film, creating a sudden tourism boom for those locales. Local governments want to build on the momentum by shouting about the movie from the rooftops, but they being forced to stay silent. The reason? Copyrights.

The cities of Hida, Gifu Prefecture, and Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, appear to have served as models for the film's fictional locations, but the movie's distributor, Toho, has not acknowledged the connection. That means the local governments cannot play up the connection, such as by using the title of the movie in tourism campaigns.

The closest Hida has come to being officially acknowledged as a location in the film was in comments to that effect by director Makoto Shinkai. At a Nov. 6 public screening of the film in Hida, which does not even have a movie theater, Shinkai said in a video message to the audience that he visited the town while "scouting for locations."

That looks familiar

Fans have pointed out that a library and a bus stop that featured in the movie appear to have been modeled after ones in Hida. A train station is also said to resemble the town's Hida-Furukawa Station.

The connection to Hida appears even stronger when considering that the movie was screened in a public facility while still playing in theaters -- a rare occurrence. The town's mayor, Junya Tsuzuku, said that while he appreciates the gesture by Toho, he wants to be able to use the film's popularity to promote the city.

But according to a local official, "Every attempt to use the film to revitalize our region has run into the problem of having to negotiate with Toho over copyrights." The official said Hida wanted to use the catchphrase "Hida, the city of Kimi no Na wa," but was unable to.

In the case of Suwa -- whose Lake Suwa is thought to have been used as the model for the film's Lake Itamori -- there is not even a hint of acknowledgement coming from Toho.

It is not uncommon to see cars with out-of-town license plates crowding a parking lot at Tateishi Park, which overlooks the lake.

"What we want to do is to create a framework for using the film's popularity to boost hotel stays and spending" in the city, said a tourism official from the Suwa government. "The problem is, Toho hasn't acknowledged that the lake served as a model for the film, so our hands are tied."

When contacted, Toho did not provide a clear explanation of its policy for working with municipalities. But there is at least one recent instance in which the company joined hands with a local government to promote an animated film.

The Toho movie "Rudolf to Ippaiattena," whose protagonist is a cat born in Gifu, hit theaters in August. In various locations in the city, the municipal government set up banners bearing images of the film's characters and the words "Gifu, the city where Rudolf was born and raised." The cat has become a new mascot for the city.

Toho approached the city in July before the film opened and asked for cooperation in promoting it. The company also decorated cable cars in the city with images of the movie's characters.

Toho did not seek fees for the banners even though they bear images of the film's characters, according to a Gifu city spokesman.

Why bother?

So why is Toho not working with local governments to promote "Kimi no Na wa"? Film critic Hideo Yoshimura speculated that the company just does not see the point in doing so.

"My guess is that the company thinks working with municipalities to promote a film that is already a blockbuster would be an inefficient use of resources," said Yoshimura.

Still, fans of "Kimi no Na wa" continue to make their pilgrimages, and local businesses are scrambling to seize the opportunity.

Among them is a local bus operator planning to boost the number of buses on a route between Tokyo and Hida-Furukawa Station, and a local brewery that has introduced a sake product based on a key prop in the film.

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