Japan is yet to establish itself as a major international filming location with appeal beyond East Asia, and rarely hosts footloose high-budget international productions for more than a few days. The country has no formal filming incentive programme and is regarded as an expensive place to shoot.
But as a setting, Japan remains evocative and popular. Both Gus Van Sant’s The Sea Of Trees and Jason Zada’s The Forest are set in Aokigahara, a scenic location at the base of Mount Fuji, also known as an infamous suicide spot. However, Van Sant shot mainly in Massachusetts, while Zada used wooded locations in Serbia in Eastern Europe.
Similarly Martin Scorsese’s historical drama Silence is almost entirely set in Japan but shot in Taiwan in 2015. Previously James Mangold’s The Wolverine was set largely in Japan but spent only a few weeks in the country before using the Australian city of Sydney and its suburbs as a double, capitalising on
the country’s all-important incentives.
A recent international feature that did film in Japan was Robert Connolly’s Australian family film Paper Planes, which shot scenes in Tokyo in 2013.
The sleek cityscapes of Tokyo and Kyoto have come to partly define Japan as a country but there is a wealth of options beyond those, including access to thousands of separate islands. Furthermore, much of the country is forested and mountainous.
Japan does not yet offer any kind of tax break or rebate aimed at attracting international production. However, many of the country’s regional film commissions have subsidies and support that target local productions but can be used by international shoots.
Full details on film subsides: Japan Film Commission
Infrastructure and crews
Centralised production support is available through the Japan Film Commission in Tokyo and there are nearly a dozen local film offices based in other parts of the country. Toho Studios in Tokyo has the largest sound stages in Japan, but they are still very small in comparison to those available in western production hubs. High production costs usually drive international projects to shoot studio work in other parts of the world after no more than a few weeks on location in Japan.
Japan is around 145,000 sq miles in size. The country offers modern roads, a high-speed rail service and one of the busiest and most comprehensive internal air travel systems in Asia.
First person to call
Japan Film Commission
Tel: +81 356 435 330
Need to know
- DO make sure you work with a good translator as Japan’s production industry is still firmly targeted at local and regional filming and so English speakers can be scarce.
- DO bow politely when you meet someone for the first time.
- DO bring a small gift if you are staying with someone or need to say thank you.
- DO hold your business card in both hands when offering it to a new contact.
- DON’T speak loudly on your phone on public transport as it is considered extremely rude.