Japanese films struggling over tensions with South Korea

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Seoul-based film distributor Media Castle thought he had a hit on his hands when he prepared to release the Japanese film “Weathering With You” last year. It was made by the same director as the record “Your Name”. which drew 3.7 million people to theaters in South Korea. But the follow-up failed, taking just 20% of the earnings from the previous film, and Media Castle says it was international politics that killed it.

In July last year, the Japanese government tightened controls on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea. People there responded by boycotting Japanese items, from beer to clothes, vehicles and movies.

On a South Korean Japanese movie reviews website, one person wrote, “I won’t watch Japanese movies because I don’t want to be a pig or a dog. Another wrote, “Who wants to see Japanese movies at a time like this?”

Watch without prejudice

Media Castle had planned a big campaign to promote “Weathering With You,” but its business partners pulled out, saying they didn’t want to be associated with Japanese films in this climate.

“There was nothing we could do to change things,” Media Castle executive producer Kang Sang Wook said. “It’s a shame we weren’t able to show the film to a lot of people. I hope everyone can avoid prejudices against films.

Kang Sang Wook, executive producer at film distributor Media Castle.

Meanwhile, a small theater in the city of Incheon is trying to maintain interest in Japanese cinema. Once a month, it shows a Japanese film for free.

Milim Cinema has a strong connection with an independent theater called Jack and Betty in Yokohama, Japan. Last year, when tensions erupted, they worked together to show films from both countries.

Milim’s manager, Choi Hyun Jun, says he felt a connection with Jack and Betty’s people. “We speak different languages ​​and live in different regions, but it is important for us in the culture and the arts to treat each other well and to seek open-minded exchanges. “

Choi Hyun Jun, director of the independent Milim theater in Incheon, supports Japanese cinema.

Filmmakers are mobilizing

Indeed, it was once illegal to show Japanese films in South Korea because Japan was considered a hostile nation. This situation only changed in 1998 thanks to the concerted efforts of the organizers of the Busan International Film Festival, the largest of its kind in Asia, who had invited Japanese filmmakers to the event since 1996.

When people in South Korea started boycotting Japanese products last year, some film festivals in South Korea withdrew Japanese titles from their programs. But the Busan organizers decided to open their event with a: “The Horse Thieves. Routes of time ”, with Moriyama Mirai. At the same event, they named Koreeda Hirokazu Asian Filmmaker of the Year.

Festival programmer Park Sun Young said, “We have a responsibility to do our best to prevent Japanese films from getting involved in political issues.

Park Sun Young, programmer of the Busan International Film Festival.

Media Castle’s Kang says he felt encouraged when “Weathering With You” director Shinkai Makoto traveled to South Korea to promote the film. The director wrote a Korean phrase on the poster urging them to fight. Kang says it cheered everyone up.

Kang says he is now considering setting up a theater in Seoul to show only Japanese titles.

“I want to help Japanese films gain a foothold in South Korea,” he says. “I think this will lay the foundation for future generations to resolve political issues. “


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