Tag Archives: Japan

Identity crisis

Japanese producer Akino Suzuki tells DQ about conspiracy thriller Lost ID, in which an engineer fights to uncover the truth when his identity is erased.

A man’s life is plunged into chaos when his identity is erased in Japanese drama Lost ID.

Todo Shinichi, played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, is a brilliant engineer with a loving fiancée – but his world turns upside down when his name is erased from Japan’s family registration system, his bank accounts are seized and his employment terminated.

Who is behind the injustice – and why? Over the course of the series, Shinichi sets out to determine the truth.

Originally broadcast last July on Nippon TV, the suspense drama is now being shopped internationally, with the potential for remakes in other markets.

Here, Nippon producer Akino Suzuki reveals the origins of the Lost ID, explains how she worked with screenwriter Takehiko Hata to create the serialised storyline and outlines how the production process was inspired by international drama series.

What are the origins of the series?
I noticed people on social media creating alter egos and began to think about how people were seeing me and what my existence in this world means. I started wondering, ‘Is my idea of a happy world really the ideal one? It might be a happy place for me, but how will others find it?’ I wanted to use these questions as a basis for creating a show that, for example, features a character who is living happily but is actually despised by the people around him. Then somebody suddenly frames him and he loses track of his own existence. That’s when I started having discussions with Takehiko Hata, the screenwriter of Lost ID.
It was also around the time when the My Number identification number system [a 12-digit ID number issued to all citizens and residents of Japan and used for taxation, social security and disaster-response purposes] was being implemented by the government, and we talked about whether it was good or bad and how unsettling it is to have your existence replaced by an identification number. In the drama, we call it your Personal Number. I wanted to use such a numbering system in a story and illustrate how uncertain a person’s existence is and question whether the reality we believe in is really true. In thinking about how to increase the entertainment value of the drama, I decided to pose the question, ‘Who is trying to drag me down?’ Fundamentally, however, the question is, ‘What does my existence really mean?’

L-R: Lost ID stars Tetsuji Tamayama, Tatsuya Fujiwara and Hitomi Kuroki

How was the show developed for Nippon TV?
I didn’t want each episode to have its own conclusion and come full circle. Instead, I wanted the show to feel like a real drama series that continues. This was something I had wanted to do ever since I was working on [2015 supernatural action drama] Death Note. Many series have a main storyline but each episode ends on its own. I wanted each episode to leave the audience hanging, without any idea of what would unfold in the next episode. I wanted them to feel impatient about the next week and to be unable to stop wondering about what would happen. That’s what I asked Takehiko to create, and that’s how we got this drama that leaves you in the dark as to what’s going to happen next. It seems like a lot of people enjoyed it. The main theme was serious in that it made viewers wonder, ‘What am I?’ but I also put a lot of effort into making it entertaining by making some parts flashy, exciting and mysterious.

Why did you want the story to have continuity?
I like that type of drama. I like foreign dramas and have enjoyed the appeal of continuous plots for a long time. Movies end in two hours and novels end when you finish reading, but the exciting thing about a drama series is you have to wait for an entire week for the next episode, and it takes three months for the whole thing to conclude. You have something to look forward to the next week. In the case of romantic dramas, you’re left wondering what will eventually happen to the couple; with suspense dramas, you’re in the dark as to who the criminal is or what crisis will strike. These types of continuous plots are uncommon [in Japan] these days and I really like them, so that’s what I wanted to produce.

How did you work with the directors to create the visual style of the show?
I’m sure we gave directors Toya Sato and Mitsuru Kubota huge headaches! We informed them that it was important to keep the drama suspenseful, but two of the things directors worry about most are how the actors are feeling and how to depict the main character’s feelings and way of life. I think it was challenging for them to achieve these given the lack of predictability.

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
Tatsuya Fujiwara was the only person I could think of for the role of Shinichi, whose situation grows increasingly difficult. It’s hard to find actors who can portray a character who comes under mounting pressure. Shinichi suffers a lot in the first part of the series, with friends dying one after another and people telling him they hate him. There are actors who, when you put them in such a role, look so distressed that it’s hard to watch them. But with Tatsuya, you know that he can eventually get his revenge. He makes you believe there’s a strong side to him that can withstand the growing pressure and difficulty, and that allows us to incorporate unimaginable twists into the plot.
With the other roles, my aim was to cast actors who were the complete opposite to what viewers would expect their character to be. Tetsuji Tamayama, who plays Shinichi’s college friend and government employee Keisuke Koyama, has a ‘nice older brother’ image but we made his character aloof. Sanae, Shinichi’s fiancée, is innocent but Fumi Nikaido gave the character a lot of depth. Nikaido has great acting skills and we put her in a girl-next-door role. Bartender Eiji is more subdued than the personality that actor Kei Inoo has in entertainment shows. Hitomi Kuroki plays Shinichi’s mother, who appears to be hiding something. We were hoping viewers would find her strange behaviour suspicious. Jun Shison plays Itsuki, Shinichi’s younger work colleague, who normally plays even younger roles but we made him portray a vile character. We also asked Hiromi, who is not an actor but a star in his own right as an entertainer, to join the cast. The point was to cast actors so that we create some discomfort, but in a good way. It matches the catchphrase that we put out in the beginning –‘All the characters are suspects.’

Akino Suzuki was also a producer on Nippon’s 2015 manga adaptation Death Note

Where was the series filmed and how do you use the locations on screen?
The drama was mostly filmed in Tokyo. We used drones but it was challenging because there are strict regulations on their use in Tokyo. Drone shots were a crucial aspect of the programme, so we tried to use them when we could but we had to find places that allow them. If the location had strict regulations regarding drones, we had to resort to computer graphics. It was hard to avoid using computer graphics for the shots above buildings, but we agreed with the directors that we should use actual drone shots as much as possible.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during production?
It was a constant challenge to take the most interesting parts of the script and depict them for the screen while making the scenes as realistic as possible. You don’t want to lose [any interesting elements from the script] during filming. I relied heavily on the directors to address this difficulty.

How would you describe the current state of TV dramas in Japan?
A lot of dramas in Japan are remakes of original works such as mangas and novels. I previously worked on creating the screen version of Death Note, a very popular manga that Nippon TV produced as a movie. Just a few years ago, I thought there were a lot of these but the number continues to rise. The intellectual property rights to almost every book and manga in bookstores are unavailable. When I was in elementary school, most of the dramas were original dramas and remakes were rare. As someone who was inspired to produce drama by watching original series, my personal challenge is to make them popular again, and I’m sure it’s the same for the Japanese drama market.
Japanese dramas focus a lot on the characters’ feelings and the goal is either to understand what they’re feeling or to see them grow. When you achieve those aims, the story ends and there’s no way to keep digging deeper, so these shows usually end after the first season. This is a unique trait of Japanese dramas. So when you create a series like Lost ID in this type of environment, while it may differ from the norm, that could make it appear even more innovative.

Are viewers’ tastes changing in Japan or do the same shows continue to be popular?
We’re beginning to see both ends of the spectrum. Nippon TV-produced dramas such as Your Home is My Business, Pretty Proofreader and Tokyo Tarareba Girls have all met high acclaim. These are shows you have to keep watching to see what happens at the end of the season. That said, the demand for TV dramas that offer a complete story per episode is still high. There are also a lot of dramas that have a core following. In the past, viewer ratings were the only way to evaluate the success of programmes, so people’s preferences were quite similar. But nowadays there are many types of dramas and platforms on which to view them, so varying tastes are developing. We need content that will be enjoyed by just about anyone, but we also need content that will attract a fan base. I believe it will be increasingly necessary to meet the needs of both types of consumers. All the broadcasters here come up with three or four new programmes each season. It’s going to become important to distinguish which ones will target the general public and which will target a core, niche audience. We at Nippon TV produce our Wednesday and Saturday dramas for the general public and our Sunday dramas for the core audience.

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Runaway success

Two women are on the run in Japanese drama Runaway Women. DQ hears about this emotional thriller from its director and its executive producer.

Hiroshi Kurosaki
Hiroshi Kurosaki

Japanese drama Runaway Women follows the story of a woman called Rieko who has served eight years in prison after being falsely convicted of murder.

Following her release, Rieko searches for a former friend who betrayed her but is forced to flee when she becomes involved with a young woman, Mio, who actually is a killer. A strange bond then develops between the two, leading to both of them being pursued by Detective Sakuma.

Produced by broadcaster NHK, the six-part series aired in January and February this year and is distributed by NHK Enterprises.

 Yuki Uchida
Yuki Uchida

Here director Hiroshi Kurosaki and executive producer Yuki Uchida take DQ inside this “road movie” that explores how two women come together when the world is seemingly against them.

DQ: What attracted you to the project?
Yuki Uchida: It started with a question: why do people commit crime? But as well as trying to create a story about crime, we delved into the essential elements of the human soul such as solitude, hatred, redemption and love.

Hiroshi Kurosaki: We decided to create the ultimate love story in today’s Japan. By love, we mean not just romance but also feeling for another person in a broader sense. We thought it would mirror modern society. I sat down with screenwriter Toshio Kamata and producers Kazuki Nakayama and Yuki to write an original story. In the end we came up with a tale not about love between a man and a woman but about a strong bond between two women.

What are the major themes of the series?
HK: It is about how human beings hold a destructive impulse in their hearts. In Japan there are many cases of murder and violence without any motive. It can be hard to trust people’s hearts – we wanted to depict a bond that could overcome such doubts.

YU: Everyone harbours burning anger and dark emotions. But at the same time, they yearn to be loved and also to give love.

Runaway Women
Runaway Women stars Miki Mizuno and Riisa Naka

What was the origin of the story and what was the writing process like?
YU: It began with murder and crime itself. But as we were developing the plot, we saw a lot of news coverage of murders committed by the mentally ill and acts of terrorism. So we ended up trying to focus more on people’s inner aspects.

HK: We spent nearly two years forming the plot, during which terrorist attacks occurred around the globe. Footage flooding the internet reshaped the concept of violence in visual media. We rewrote the story from depicting extreme violence to zeroing in on solitude and hunger.

How did the writers and director work together to create the style and tone of the show?
HK: We all shared a respect for the women in the story, and throughout filming we tried to beautifully depict how they strived to move forward with their lives.

YU: The script showed unconventional characters doing and saying things that defied prediction. By moving away from pre-established harmony and not making things too easy to understand, we were able to maintain a distinctive world.

Who are the leading cast members and what qualities do they bring to the characters?
YU: The leads are Miki Mizuno [Rieko], Riisa Naka [Mio] and Kenichi Endo [Detective Sakuma]. Mizuno and Naka had tough jobs, playing someone who has just been released from prison after a wrongful conviction and a psychotic killer respectively. They were in 100% shape both physically and emotionally for the long filming schedule. Endo depicted a man who has a complex, swaying mind despite standing on the side of justice as a detective. All three actively made suggestions to shape their characters.

HK: They threw away their usual star appearances and delved into the characters. Again and again, they fulfilled our wish for them to capture the emotions that seep out from deep inside. They are great actors – and both Mizuno and Naka lost weight for their roles. All three have altered the perceptions viewers will have had of them from their previous performances.

The drama was shot partly in locations that seemed 'detached from the real world'
The drama was shot partly in locations that seemed ‘detached from the real world’

Where was Runaway Women filmed and how did the locations influence the drama?
HK: It was filmed in Kyushu, [an island in] southern Japan. We wanted to place the women on the run not in a cold and dark place but in the south, flooded with light. We felt it was meaningful to have them walk with their heads held high in bright sunlight. We were always aware of the light when filming.

YU: In many cases we shot on location in Nagasaki [which is located on Kyushu]. It is a unique place with indented coastlines and hills that come up to the sea as well as urban zones that cling to the hillside, former naval ports, a US navy base and fishing villages. We believe we captured the feeling of women running in places that seem detached from the real world.

What were the biggest challenges during the production?
YU: It was a road movie and it was a big challenge to shoot in so many different places within a limited time span.

HK: We focused on the moments when the leading characters walked and ran. So we did a lot of long takes using handheld cameras to follow the actors everywhere. In some scenes, an actor and cameraman would keep on running for hundreds of metres. The crew would do warm-up exercises like athletes before each scene began!

How does Runaway Women compare to other NHK dramas and Japanese drama in general?
HK: We captured the beautiful and colourful landscapes of Japan, allowing viewers to see what the country is like today. In recent years, Japanese channels have been under pressure because [of a fear that] viewers will not tune in unless programmes are easy to understand. Sometimes I feel this has gone too far – human emotions are complex and cannot be understood easily. We dared to tread in different terrain, depicting emotions carefully and turning out a new form of entertainment.

YU: It is different because many scenes were shot on location, in places other than Tokyo. Also, it is not a drama where the leading characters are good people – but they will strike viewers as real people.

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Sitting Pretty: DQ checks on Pretty Proofreader

Proofreading may seem an unlikely source for drama but that was the challenge facing producer Reina Oda when she began devising Nippon TV’s latest series.

Outside Japan, Nippon TV is arguably most notable as the original home of business reality series Dragons’ Den. Known locally as Money Tigers, the format has since been adapted 29 times and is on air in 184 countries around the world.

But the broadcaster will have a new drama to showcase when the international television community gathers in Cannes next week for Mipcom, where Japan is this year’s Country of Honour.

Pretty Proofreader, which debuted on Nippon TV earlier this month, tells the story of 28-year-old Etsuko, the ultimate fashionista, whose lifelong dream is to become the editor of a fashion magazine. After much searching, she finally secures a job at a large publishing house, only to discover she’s been assigned to the least glamorous section – the proofreading department. Undeterred, she meticulously investigates every issue, which leads to one problem after another.

Producer Reina Oda tells DQ how she brought this adaptation of Ayako Miyagi’s novel Koetsu Garu to the small screen.

Pretty Proofreader producer Reina Oda
Pretty Proofreader producer Reina Oda

What attracted you to the project?
I was drawn to the original novel that this drama is based on because I started working at Nippon TV 13 years ago hoping to make dramas, but ended up doing something else. I still had a lot of fun, though, and I realised that I shared a lot in common with the heroine of the story who works very hard even though she didn’t land her dream job. There aren’t many people in this world who are doing what they truly want to do but are still enjoying their work, without doing it resentfully. I can relate to that and when I read the original novel, I felt that this could be a drama that would encourage people and make them realise, ‘Hey, it’s OK that I don’t have my dream job!’

What can you tell us about the show’s themes?
Etsuko remains loud and clear that she wants to be a fashion magazine editor. Even though she wasn’t assigned to her dream department, she’s not quick to accept that her current job is her destiny. That’s why this is a drama that is encouraging to both those who have achieved their dreams and those who haven’t. It also sends a message that even if you’re around 30 years old, it’s OK to still have the desire to chase after what you really want to do. I want the show to resonate with those who accept what has come their way and decide to pour their heart and soul into it, as well as those who still want to pursue their desires.

What was the origin of the story and what was the writing process like?
The drama is based on a novel Koetsu Garu, by Ayako Miyagi, in which the main character is a 23-year-old woman who has just graduated from college. Nippon TV’s Wednesday 22.00 dramas, however, seem to have been resonating more with people around 30, so we increased her age and modified the story so that she would have been working at the same publishing company for seven years. By doing so, Etsuko’s feelings are even stronger. She feels even more strongly about not being able to do what she truly wants to do. There’s also a sense of, ‘I’ve made it this far, so why not keep pushing forward?’ I think the story got better by making her older.

How much did you research fashion magazines?
For Etsuko’s fashion style, we consulted with Satomi Ishihara, who plays Etsuko, and her stylist. It seems like scarves are the ‘in’ thing this year so we used those, as well as coloured tights and other trends. But what was very important was that Etsuko is not wealthy, so instead of wearing luxury brands, she wears used clothes and spices up her look by accessorising. In this sense, she’s not realistically like a proofreader but we pursued authenticity in other aspects. There’s a younger woman working in the fashion magazine editing department named Morio, who happens to be from the same high school as Etsuko. What we saw in the real world was that people who work in fashion magazines are actually less worried about what they wear. In the scene where Etsuko goes to work believing that she’s been assigned to the fashion magazine editing department, she shows up all stylish and glamorous, only to realise that nobody in that group is as decked out as she is. So the truth is, there isn’t a proofreader who dresses like Etsuko, but there isn’t anyone who looks like her in the editing department either.
In preparation for filming, I talked to people in both editing and proofreading departments. I also asked a fashion editor about proofreaders. That’s when I was told, ‘We don’t have a proofreading department in this publishing house.’ But later I got a message saying, ‘Actually, we do have a proofreading department – I just didn’t know!’ I immediately used that as material for our first episode.

How did the style and tone of the show come together?
When I told Ayako Miyagi that we wanted to adapt her work for television, she said she would entrust me with all matters related to TV content creation. She’s a very generous person. She said, ‘Go ahead and take Etsuko to many different places.’ Mayumi Nakatani, the scriptwriter, kept the original quick-witted, sharp-tongued dialogue while also making sure the action was dynamic. The conversations and general feel are based on the original novel, but the story is quite different. But everything is approved by Miyagi.

Toya Sato
Toya Sato

What is the director’s style and how was this used to create a look for Pretty Proofreader?
The director, Toya Sato, is brilliant at using computer graphics. When he heard that he would be working on Pretty Proofreader, he started imagining how he could breathe life into the quiet world in which the story is set and was ready to rise to the challenge. When you watch the drama, it’s clear he worked hard on even the most ordinary scenes and conversations. The director really unleashed his mastery throughout the project. I really find it fascinating.

What can you tell us about the cast and their characters?
First and foremost, there’s Satomi Ishihara’s Etsuko Kono. Everyone who gets to know Etsuko starts to like her. Many people wish they could say what they really want to say, just like Etsuko. But Etsuko isn’t just a sharp-tongued woman who’s socially inept – she always hits the spot with what she says and her timing is always exquisite. Then there are her colleagues at the proofreading department who, at first glance, seem dull and boring but are actually passionate. Viewers will start to see this in episodes two and three. I really like Takehara, the manager of the proofreading department, played by Goro Kishitani. His character has such a great air about him. Then there’s Yoneoka, also in the same department, played by Masato Wada. Yoneoka slowly begins to exude girly traits. Finally, there’s Fujiiwa, played by Noriko Eguchi, who looks like your typical proofreader – when you actually meet proofreaders, all of them really look like her!

Where was the series filmed and how did locations influence the drama?
Most of the filming was done in the studio. We made sets for the proofreading department, where Etsuko works, and the editing department where she longs to be and where Morio works. The proofreading department has low ceilings, while the editing department has very high ceilings. It’s almost like the difference between being in a basement and the top floor, so you’ll begin to wonder if both departments are even in the same building.
This difference is also why Etsuko, in the beginning, becomes even more drawn to the editing department and why the proofreading department becomes a source of stress for her. Thanks to Etsuko, however, the proofreading department slowly becomes more vibrant. Even the proofreaders begin to change and show signs of wanting more freedom from the stiff rules that tie them down. I still don’t know how things will unfold from here, but we’re discussing how we can even create a scene where, for example, Etsuko starts adding lively decorations to her department, and Kaizuka, a literary editor, is surprised the proofreading department has become brighter.

What were the biggest challenges during the production?
I would say the script. For example, if the main character was an editor, she could go and meet some writers and work really hard, and all her efforts eventually would lead to success. We can create that kind of a simple story. But with proofreaders, if the story they’re working on is really interesting, they might find it harder to catch mistakes. It’s a special job that requires them to be objective with what they’re reading, and some even say they shouldn’t proofread the works of their favourite writers. It makes for an interesting story, but I’m also challenged every day to make this a feel-good programme that portrays proofreaders in a way that makes the audience say, ‘Wow, that’s so interesting.’

What is the message that you hope viewers will take away from the series?
I want to encourage those who have already reached their dreams and those who have yet to. You can start a sentence with ‘Like Etsuko…’ and have it end differently. Someone might say, ‘Like Etsuko, I want to be someone who pours my heart and soul into my job even if it’s not the one I dreamed of.’ Another might say, ‘Like Etsuko, I want to be someone who won’t stop announcing to the whole world, loud and clear, what my dream is.’ Neither one is good or bad, but I want to send some encouragement to people on each side.
Satomi Ishihara wonderfully portrays an innocent, vibrant and fast-talking woman with a huge smile who overflows with life. Etsuko has the strength and tenacity to face obstacles without getting discouraged. This is a drama that will surely give you strength and courage.

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View from the East: NHK’s Masafumi Endo discusses success in Asia

Masafumi Endo, head of drama at Japanese broadcaster NHK, tells DQ what series need to be successful in the Far East and why viewers can look forward to meeting the ‘Japanese Harry Potter.’

Masafumi Endo
Masafumi Endo

DQ: What are the most popular dramas currently on NHK and why are they a hit with viewers?
Masafumi Endo: NHK’s traditional drama slot features series that could be described as Japanese telenovelas. We have created 93 of these in the past 55 years. They air for 15 minutes at 08.00, Monday through Saturday. Each work consists of 156 episodes that are broadcast from October to March.
Here Comes Asa! is the 93rd series of this kind. It explores how a girl, born to a merchant family in Kyoto in the 1860s, fights for the advancement of women and goes on to establish a women’s college. With help from her understanding husband and people around her, she battles to clear her path in male-oriented times and strives to shape an era in which women being in work is taken for granted. Her efforts have captured the imagination of the viewers.
The drama stars Haru, Hiroshi Tamaki, Aoi Miyazaki and Masaomi Kondo. Another appeal for the viewers has been watching the lead actress, Haru, who won the part via an audition that drew more than 2,000 applicants, mature as a performer over a six-month period.
NHK has also produced 55 year-long historical sagas, which we call taiga dorama (big-river drama), in 53 years. Sunday at 20.00 has become a fixed timeslot for families to enjoy these epic stories. This year, Sanada Maru (pictured top) focuses on the life of the second son of a feudal lord of a small province during Japan’s warring-states period in the 1500s. The drama, which follows the struggles of the Sanada clan that survives the uncertain age on the strength of its family ties, seems to have inspired a growing number of viewers. It stars Masato Sakai, Masao Kusakari, Yo Oizumi and Masami Nagasawa.

How would you describe the television drama business in Japan at present?
The time people spend watching TV is falling regardless of age or gender. TV dramas are also faring poorly in general. Exports overseas have reached no further than Asia, and Japan lags behind Korea and China in this respect.

What genres are most popular in Japanese drama and why? Do viewers prefer a certain type of drama, such as serialised stories or procedurals?
Two recent hits among Japanese viewers were both serial dramas made by the commercial TV networks. Many Japanese viewers are used to watching serial dramas and the challenge is making sure they return week after week.
The first, Naoki Hanzawa, airs on commercial network TBS. The show sees the titular character join a major bank to avenge his father, who died when Hanzawa was young. Faced with a torrent of challenges, he finds a way out using his intellectual power. The phrase he utters when he is cornered, “Baigaeshi da!” (I’ll pay back double), has become a slogan.
Downtown Rocket (also on TBS), meanwhile, is set in a modern Japan mired in economic turmoil and bleak prospects. The leading character, who heads a small company that is on the brink of going under, talks eagerly about his dream. The drama depicts how the heads of small factories join forces and gather their technologies to launch the first grass-root-level rocket. A quote from the main character – “What’s wrong with smaller companies having a dream?” – gave courage to many Japanese people feeling the effects of recession.
Both of Downtown Rocket’s protagonists have many shortcomings but they are upbeat and positive and work hard to achieve their goals. The viewers seem to appreciate dramas that depict some kind of success story, where the characters never give in to adversity.

Women’s rights drama Here Comes Asa!
Women’s rights drama Here Comes Asa!

What makes NHK drama stand out compared with other broadcasters’ series?
Since NHK is a public broadcaster, it is not judged by the ratings or expected to generate advertising revenue. Thus it is free from the will of sponsors. Consequently, we can produce dramas that not only reflect what viewers want but also deal with themes of public nature and value. We can also take the risk of creating historical dramas with universality and discover less-known talents to appear in our shows.
We have the tradition and skill accumulated through creating 55 historical sagas in 53 years and 93 TV novel series in 55 years. NHK is also capable of making programmes incorporating new technologies such as 4K and 8K.

How well does Japanese drama compete with international drama?
NHK produces programmes that target viewers in Japan and is not focused on overseas sales. In terms of technology, we believe our quality enables us to compete in the global market. But international acceptance of stories based on Japan’s unique culture, customs and religion, and the fact that the protagonists are Japanese, poses a challenge.

How are your TV dramas financed? Are budgets increasing as viewers expect cinematic production values?
It’s the same in Japan as around the world, with viewers now expecting high quality in TV drama. This affects production costs but, being a public broadcaster, NHK revenues do not increase annually. Our budget for drama production has barely increased in the past few years, which means we have to cope and come up with ways to overcome our budget situation.

The original version of The Sniffer, which NHK is remaking
The original version of The Sniffer, which NHK is remaking

Can you explain your drama development process?
Many of our dramas are produced in-house, with our producers working out projects and proposing them to the programming department. When the plans are approved, they go on to oversee the production. They choose a screenwriter and work on the casting.
The drama is then created by the in-house producer, director, production staff, assistant director, art and technical staff. However, in recent years, an increasing number of dramas have been outsourced to external production companies.

Do you take part in international coproductions? Do you think this is a good model for making drama?
Since 1980, NHK has coproduced around 20 dramas with overseas broadcasters and production companies.
For instance, A Son of the Good Earth (1995) was jointly produced with CCTV of China and focused on a Japanese orphan left behind in China at the end of the Second World War. The drama received a great response when it was first aired and has been rebroadcast a number of times.
Likewise, The Ginger Tree (BBC, WGBH), The Last U-Boat (ZDF, Capital Cities/ABC Video Enterprises, ORF, Manfred Durniok Filmproduction), Mission Top Secret and Escape from Jupiter (coproduced with Australia in 1993 and 1994 respectively), The Menam Never Sleeps (Channel 3, Thailand) and The Best Bad Thing (A Cinar Production, WQED, ZDF) were international coproductions.

‘Japanese Harry Potter’ Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
‘Japanese Harry Potter’ Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

What new dramas do you have coming up in 2016?
The historical saga Sanada Maru, which began airing in January, is an original work of Koki Mitani, a leading screenwriter in terms of popularity and talent. Its protagonist is Nobushige Sanada, a hero in Japan’s warring-states period. The story follows how the Sanada clan, a samurai family lacking in power, navigates the raging waves of the period amid powerful feudal warlords. The drama features popular performers both young and seasoned to appeal not only to the elderly, who are fans of historical drama, but also the younger generation. It has performed well so far.
NHK has also purchased the format of The Sniffer, the hit Ukrainian detective series that has been remade worldwide. We will produce it as a local drama. It will be NHK’s first such attempt, and will debut this fall.
A major fantasy drama called Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is also awaiting broadcast. The show was given a special 4K screening on the opening night of MipTV – marking a first for an Asian broadcaster. Based on a series of bestselling fantasy novels, the drama depicts otherworldly adventures in great scale. It’s reminiscent of a Japan-made Harry Potter. Fantasy is a genre that is not often seen in Japanese television drama. We hope this show will reach a wide audience and we plan to air 20 episodes over three years.

How do you see Japanese drama changing in the next 12 months?
We do not expect a drastic change in the coming year or so. But we may see gradual changes as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other video streaming services become more popular.
For instance, there is a tendency for edgy videos or works that appeal to a niche group of viewers being streamed first before going on to be accepted by wider audiences. Although TV stations cannot produce overly edgy programmes due to the nature of broadcasting, the industry may need to make certain changes.

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