Tag Archives: NHK

Converging on Cannes

The great and good of the television industry are once again packing their bags for another week in the south of France. DQ previews some of the drama series set to break out at Mipcom 2017.

Mipcom is often viewed as an opportunity for US studios to showcase their scripted series to international buyers. But this year the US will be jostling for attention with dramas from the likes of Spain, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Scandinavia and the UK.

The Spanish contingent is especially strong thanks to a major investment in drama by Telefonica’s Movistar+. Titles on show will be Gigantes, distributed by APC; La Peste, distributed by Sky Vision; and La Zona and Velvet Collection, both from Beta Film. The latter is a spin-off from Antena 3’s popular Velvet, previously sold around the world by Beta.

Beta Film’s Morocco – Love in Times of War

Beta is also in Cannes with Morocco – Love in Times of War, as well as Farinia – Snow on the Atlantic, both produced by Bambu for Antena 3. The former is set in war-torn Spanish Morocco in the 1920s, where a group of nurses look after troops, while Farinia centres on a fisherman who becomes a wealthy smuggler by providing South American cartels a gateway to Europe.

Mipcom’s huge Russian contingent is linked, in part, to the fact 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Titles that tackle this subject include Demon of Revolution, Road to Calvary and Trotsky – the latter two of which will be screened at the market. Trotsky, produced by Sreda Production for Channel One Russia, is an eight-part series that tells the story of the flamboyant and controversial Leon Trotsky, an architect of the Russian Revolution and Red Army who was assassinated in exile.

Russian drama Road to Calvary

Other high-profile Russian projects include TV3’s Gogol, a series of film-length dramas that reimagine the famous mystery writer as an amateur detective. Already a Russian box-office hit, the films will be screened to TV buyers at Mipcom.

Japanese drama has found a new international outlet recently following Nippon TV’s format deal for Mother in Turkey (a successful adaptation that has resulted in more interest in Japanese content among international buyers). The company is now back with a drama format called My Son. NHK, meanwhile, is screening Kurara: The Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter, a 4K production about Japan’s most famous artist.

Brazil’s Globo, meanwhile, is moving beyond the telenovelas for which it is so famous. After international recognition for dramas like Above Justice and Jailers, it will be in Cannes with Under Pressure, a coproduction with Conspiração that recorded an average daily reach of 40.2 million viewers when it aired in Brazil.

Nippont TV format My Son

From mainland Europe, there’s a range of high-profile titles at Mipcom including Bad Banks, distributed by Federation Entertainment, which looks at corruption within the global banking world. From the Nordic region there is StudioCanal’s The Lawyer, which includes Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge) as one of its creators, and season two of FremantleMedia International’s Modus. The latter is particularly interesting for starring Kim Cattrall, signalling a shift towards a more hybrid Anglo-Swedish project.

While non-English-language drama will have a high profile at the market, there are compelling projects from the UK, Canada and Australia. UK’s offerings include Sky Vision’s epic period piece Britannia and All3Media International’s book adaptation The Miniaturist – both with screenings. There’s also BBC Worldwide’s McMafia (pictured top), sold to Amazon on the eve of the market, and ITV Studios Global Entertainment’s The City & The City, produced by Mammoth Screen and written by Tony Grisoni.

All3Media International drama The Miniaturist

From Canada, there is Kew Media-distributed Frankie Drake Mysteries, from the same stable as the Murdoch Mysteries, while Banijay Rights is offering season two of Australian hit Wolf Creek. There’s also a screening for Pulse, a medical drama from ABC Commercial and Screen Australia.

Of course, it would be wrong to neglect the US entirely,since leading studios will be in town with some strong content. A+E Networks, for example, will bring actor Catherine Zeta-Jones to promote Cocaine Godmother, a TV movie about 1970s Miami drug dealer Griselda Blanco, aka The Black Widow.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, meanwhile, is screening Counterpart, in which JK Simmons (Whiplash, La La Land) plays Howard Silk, a lowly employee in a Berlin-based UN spy agency. When Silk discovers that his organisation safeguards the secret of a crossing into a parallel dimension, he is thrust into a world of intrigue and danger where the only man he can trust is his near-identical counterpart from this parallel world.

If you’re in Cannes, don’t forget to pick up the fall 2017 issue of Drama Quarterly, which features Icelandic thriller Stella Blómkvist, McMafia, Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Child in Time, Australian period drama Picnic at Hanging Rock and much more.

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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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Japanese and Polish dramas make headlines

Operation Love is heading for web platform Tencent
Operation Love is heading for web platform Tencent

Declining ad revenues mean Japanese broadcasters are increasingly looking to the international market to make money. And one of the areas they are keen to build on is drama exports.

One example of this is NHK’s fantasy adventure Moribito, created with the international market in mind, while Nippon TV’s recent sale of format Mother to Turkey – a first for Japanese drama – is another. Also significant is Fuji TV’s entry into the China market via a scripted content partnership with Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

Under the terms of the latter partnership, SMG is adapting a total of five Fuji dramas for the Chinese market. The second of these, Operation Love, began filming in Guangzhou this month with a view to airing on online platform Tencent from Spring 2017.

A light-hearted love story, Operation Love first aired in Japan in 2007 and has also been remade in South Korea as Operation Proposal. It follows an earlier remake of Dating: What’s it Like to be in Love?, which will air on SMG’s channels in 2017.

Another interesting drama story this week is the news that HBO Europe has commissioned a six-part Warsaw-set drama about a cocaine dealer planning a holiday in Argentina. Antony Root, exec VP of original programming and production at HBO Europe, said of the show: “We believe Blinded by the Lights, a story set in Warsaw’s demi-monde and showing off the city in a wholly new way, will not only appeal to Polish audiences but also to our subscribers all around the HBO Europe region. We are confident it will equally excite audiences internationally.”

Wataha (The Pack)
Wataha (The Pack) has been given a second series on HBO Europe

The show is part of a growing slate of original HBO Europe series that kicked off a few years ago with Burning Bush and was followed by Pustina. In addition to Blinded by the Lights, HBO Europe also announced a second series of Wataha (The Pack). This show tells the story of a border guard unit based in the remote Bieszczady Mountains on Poland’s border with Ukraine. “The Pack/Wataha proved its appeal to viewers having achieved huge ratings in Poland for its first season,” Root said. “It also played extremely successfully in the other HBO Europe territories and has sold in foreign markets. We are very excited by this new chapter and the way the writers explore the challenges now faced on Europe’s longest border.”

Also this week, Modern Times Group-owned distributor DRG announced it had renewed its first-look deal with indie producer Three River Fiction for a further two years. Three River has 15 to 20 projects in active development, including several adaptations. Its largest acquisition to date is a 15-book estate of Golden Age crime fiction, written in the 1930s by John Bude. Colin Bateman (Murphy’s Law, The Journey) is attached and has written a pilot script based on the crime franchise.

Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence
Richard Madden in Medici: Masters of Florence

According to DRG, there are two further projects in development, including a dark re-imagining of the Robin Hood story. With Mark Skeet and Matthew Faulk (Titanic: Blood and Steel, Vanity Fair) attached to write, the series will be “a vibrant, venal and complex post-watershed saga set in a bloodstained 12th century England,” said the distributor. The other is a sci-fi series, created and written by Richard Smith (Trauma,) exploring how an isolated community is torn apart by secrets and lies following the crash landing of a UFO.

On the distribution front, Netflix has acquired rights to Renaissance period drama Medici: Masters of Florence for a select number of territories. The Rai-backed drama, which is distributed by Wild Bunch TV, will air on Netflix in the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada and India from December 9. It has already been picked up by broadcasters and streamers in France, Germany, Australia and Japan. The fact Netflix has done a deal for a limited number of territories is interesting, because it suggests the international drama market may be moving away from a model where Netflix attempts to secure the rights to series on a worldwide basis.

Also this week, Deadline is reporting that Amazon has struck an exclusive SVoD deal for USA Network’s new supernatural thriller Falling Water. The show, which tells the story of three unrelated people who discover they are dreaming separate parts of a single common dream, hasn’t rated that well on USA. But Amazon’s involvement will make it easier for the network to back a second series – an increasingly common scenario in the US TV business.

Falling Water looks to be on its way to Amazon
Falling Water looks to be on its way to Amazon

This week has also seen some interesting strategic insights from Eurodata TV Worldwide as part of its Scripted Series Report 2016. Based on feedback from 103 channels, Eurodata found that networks, on average, devoted 32% of primetime to series.

Within this total, local series are the biggest hits. “They represent no less than 84% of the primetime top 15,” said Eurodata. “Imports, and consequently international hits, appear less often in rankings of the top programmes. Despite this, broadcasting these imports remains a winning strategy for smaller channels. As an example, The X-Files succeeded in placing among the top shows for M6 (France), Pro7 (Germany), TV3 (Sweden) and Channel 5 (the UK). US imports are challenged by series imported from countries geographically closer to the channel. The latter occupy a minor place in schedules: 15% of the channels studied broadcast a significant amount of these imports in primetime. Most of all, they are an alternative for small markets and smaller channels.”

There is also a trend towards greater exposure, Eurodata added. “In addition to longer availability thanks to catch-up opportunities, a series is now more available over various platforms in a single country. Traditional players and OTT platforms play with the various windows possible for their content. The multiplatform strategy is often a winning one. For example, Zwarte Tulp (NL Film), a new show in the 2015-16 season for RTL4, is a hit in the Netherlands. Five months before its launch on the RTL Group’s first channel, the series had been streamed on Videoland, the group’s SVoD platform. The series Black Widows (DRG) was broadcast simultaneously on the TV3 channels of the MTG group in Sweden and Denmark, and also on the group’s SVoD platform. It is among the channel’s top three shows in both countries.”

Black Widows
Black Widows, distributed by DRG, is a top show in both Sweden and Denmark

According to Eurodata, examples of collaboration between TV and SVoD services are on the rise. “Whether to reduce production costs, grow a viewer base or [increase] international visibility for their content, or fill their schedules and catalogues, players from the various groups are working together in production and distribution. One example, the series Narcos, was recently broadcast on Univision in the US after its distribution on Netflix. In the future, El Chapo will be coproduced by Netflix and Univision and Britannia (Sky Vision) will be a Sky/Amazon coproduction.”

Other trends include a shift towards short formats and adaptations. Eurodata explained: “Short formats have proven popular. They are often conducive to quality series, as they encourage participation by well-known actors, screenwriters and directors. The Night Manager (WME/IMG, The Ink Factory), adapted from John Le Carré’s eponymous novel, immediately earned fourth among series in the UK and fifth in Denmark. Adaptations, meanwhile, allow inspiring characters and stories to reverberate further. Many of the season’s hits are adaptations of series that exist in other countries. Among the European countries covered in the report, the proportion of local adaptations launched has doubled with respect to those in the 2014-15 season. Some channels particularly count on these to appeal to their viewers. This is the case with the Dutch channel SBS6, whose top three series are exclusively local adaptations of foreign formats.”

Avril Blondelot, international research manager at Eurodata TV Worldwide, said: “True international hits are appearing less and less in the national top rankings.”

However, the international stage is playing a growing role in the development of local series. “More and more new series have been adapted from foreign formats,” commented Eurodata media consultant Léa Besson.

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Buyers stick to the scripted in Mipcom

The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes
The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes

The Japanese have a good strike rate when it comes to exporting animation and entertainment formats. But they have struggled with drama. There are a few reasons for this but, when it comes down to it, the core problem is that scripted shows that work in Japanese primetime don’t travel that well.

The country’s leading players want to do something about this because the revenues they are generating from the domestic media market aren’t as strong as they used to be. So now they are looking at formats and coproductions as ways of building up their international profile and generating a new revenue stream. They are also starting to ask themselves if there is a way of making shows that can tap into the world drama zeitgeist that has propelled Korean, Turkish, Nordic and Israeli drama around the globe.

There were a couple of examples of the way Japan is seeking to shift its mindset at the Mipcom market in Cannes this week. One was a deal that will see Nippon TV drama Mother adapted for the Turkish market by MF Yapim & MEDYAPIM. The new show will be called Anne and will air on leading broadcaster Star TV. It’s the first time a Japanese company has struck this kind of deal in Turkey.

Also this week, Japanese public broadcaster NHK screened Moribito II: Guardian of the Spirit, an ambitious live-action fantasy series based on the novels of Nahoko Uehashi – likened by some to JRR Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Produced in 4K and HDR, this is the second in a planned trilogy of TV series, the first of which consisted of four parts. The show has been attracting interest from channel buyers beyond Japan’s usual sphere of influence, suggesting the country may be starting to have the kind of international impact it wants.

Interestingly, NHK brought the actor Kento Hayashi to Cannes to help promote the Moribito franchise. Hayashi also starred in Netflix’s first Japanese original, Hibana, another scripted show that has captured the attention of audiences and critics around the world.

Away from Japanese activity, companies that had a good week in Cannes included ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which said its hit period drama series Victoria has now sold to more than 150 countries, including new deals with the likes of Sky Germany, VRT Belgium and Spanish pay TV platform Movistar+. It also sold comedy drama Cold Feet – renewed for a new season in 2017 – to the likes of NPO Netherlands, ITV Choice Africa, Yes in Israel, TV4 Sweden and NRK Norway.

Further evidence of the appeal of lavish period pieces came with the pre-sales buzz around Zodiak Rights’ Versailles, which is going into its second season. At Mipcom, the show was picked up by a range of broadcasters and platforms including BBC2 (UK), Amazon Prime (UK), C More (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland), DirecTV (Latin America) and Movistar+.

Timeless
Timeless was picked up by Channel 4

Moving beyond period pieces, other shows that cut through the promotional clutter included Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s time-travel drama Timeless, which sold to the UK’s Channel 4 to air on its youth-skewing E4 network. The show was also picked up by the likes of OSN in the Middle East, Fox in Italy, AXN in Japan, Viacom 18’s Colors Infinity in India and Sohu in China.

SPT also sold new sitcom Kevin Can Wait to Channel 4 in the UK, though perhaps the most interesting Sony-related story at Mipcom was the news that its international television network group AXN has joined forces with Pinewood Television to a develop a slate of six TV drama projects.

The series will be financed in partnership between Sony Pictures Television Networks and Pinewood Television. The plan is for them to air on AXN channels in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe, with a programming emphasis on high-impact action, crime and mystery. The deal was brokered by Marie Jacobson, executive VP of programming and production at SPTN, and Peter Gerwe, a director for Pinewood Television.

Midnight Sun
StudioCanal thriller Midnight Sun

Jacobson said: “As we look for alternative paths to expand original series development, Pinewood TV make for the ideal partners. We are look forward to developing projects with them that play both in the UK and on our channels around the world.”

Other high-profile dramas to attract buyer attention at the market this week included StudioCanal’s Swedish-French eight-hour drama Midnight Sun, picked up by ZDF in Germany, SBS in Australia, HOT in Israel and DR in Denmark.

Distributor FremantleMedia International licensed its big-budget series The Young Pope to Kadokawa Corporation in Japan, while Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution licensed The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story to French pay TV operator Canal+.

Another show that enjoyed some success this week was DRG-distributed The Level, a six-part thriller that was picked up by ABC Australia, UTV in Ireland, TVNZ in New Zealand and DBS Satellite Services in Israel, among others. Produced by Kate Norrish and Polly Leys, joint MDs of Hillbilly Films, the show follows a reputable cop with a secret that is about to unravel. The show has previously been picked up by Acorn Media Enterprises for the US market.

Jude Law in The Young Pope
Jude Law in The Young Pope

Reiterating the growing interest in non-English drama, Global Screen enjoyed some success with Rivals Forever – The Sneaker Battle, which tells the true story of how brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler set up Adidas and Puma. France Télévisions acquired free TV rights and will air the series in early 2017 on France 3, while Just Entertainment in the Netherlands has landed video, pay TV and VoD rights. Other buyers included DR (Denmark), FTV Prima (Czech Republic), LRT (Lithuania) and HBO Europe (for Eastern Europe).

Turkish drama successes included Mistco’s sale of TRT period drama Resurrection to Kazakhstan Channel 31. Eccho Rights also sold four Turkish dramas to Chilean broadcaster Mega. The four shows were all produced by Ay Yapim and include the recent hit series Insider. This continues a good run of success for Turkish content in the Latin American region.

While Mipcom is fundamentally a sales market, its conference programme is also a useful way of tuning into international trends and opportunities in drama. There was an interesting keynote with showrunner Adi Hasak, who has managed to get two shows away with US networks (Shades of Blue, Eyewitness) in the last three years despite having no real track record with the US channel business. He believes the current voracious demand for ideas has made this possible: “This is a small business, where everyone knows everyone. If you create material that speaks to buyers, they will respond.”

Participant Media CEO David Linde also talked about the way his company is starting to extend its influence beyond film into TV and social media. Known for movies like An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Snitch and Spotlight, the firm’s expansion into TV will see a new series about journalists breaking stories, developed by the team behind Oscar winner Spotlight.

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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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