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Politics

Aiming to get its name in lights, Japan pitches movie locations

The next 'Last Samurai' might actually be filmed in the country where it is set

Actors Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe pose with the director and other cast members of "The Last Samurai" in Kyoto, Japan, in November 2003.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- One of the most successful box-office hits set in Japan was "The Last Samurai" of 2003, starring Tom Cruise as an emotionally scarred American ex-military officer, and Ken Watanabe as a rebellious feudal lord.

The movie includes some beautiful scenes of traditional villages, mountains and forests -- a wonderful advertisement for tourism to Japan if there ever was one.

Except that it was all shot in New Zealand.

Despite its rich culture, beautiful landscapes and world-class logistics, not many big-name international films get made in Japan. 

But with movie tourism growing ever more popular, Japan wants a piece of the action, and is preparing to offer subsidies and tax breaks to domestic and foreign production companies to shoot in the country.

The government hopes that making more movies will attract tourists who want to see the locations firsthand. It also wants to promote the domestic film industry, including collaborations with Europe, the U.S. and other Asian countries.

It will be the first time for the national government to offer such incentives to filmmakers.

New Zealand finances up to 25% of the filming costs of companies shooting in the country. In addition to "The Last Samurai," other blockbusters such as "The Lord of the Rings" series were filmed there. Australia also provides tax breaks and reimburses some of the costs of making movies there.

Local governments in Japan have already been trying to lure filmmakers. Okinawa Prefecture, for example, subsidizes half of total filming costs up to 30 million yen ($270,000) per film.

However, local governments have found it difficult to compete with other countries in offering incentives.

A joint public-private group on moviemaking will compile proposals by February, based on the systems, successes and economic impacts of programs overseas. The aim is to include provisions to promote moviemaking in Japan in the budget for the fiscal year starting in April 2019.

Japan will consider easing regulations on using publicly managed roads and rivers in moviemaking. The new system will be pitched to major domestic and foreign production companies, and at international film festivals. The program will be included in the Intellectual Property Strategic Program, to be revised in the summer.

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