Tag Archives: Nippon TV

End game

High-concept murder mystery Your Turn to Kill sees neighbours living in an apartment block take part in a deadly game. DQ speaks to producer Hiroe Suzuma about the ideas behind the Japanese drama.

Living next to nightmare neighbours can be bad for your health – just ask the characters at the centre of Japanese series Your Turn to Kill.

Produced and distributed by broadcaster Nippon TV, the 20-part mystery drama sees a newly married couple move into their first home, only to find their peace shattered by a spate of deaths in their apartment block. It emerges that 13 of their neighbours played a game in which they each wrote the name of someone they’d like to see dead on a piece of paper, before drawing lots to see whose names they would get. While it seemed like harmless fun at first, the people named soon start dying off.

Here, producer Hiroe Suzuma from Nippon TV’s production department tells DQ about creating the series and how a spin-off drama helped to fuel speculation about the storyline.

Hiroe Suzuma

What are the origins of the series?
While working on our drama series My Lover’s Secret in the summer of 2017 with concept creator Yasushi Akimoto, we naturally talked about what our next project should be. That was when he proposed a mystery drama in which a ‘swap murder game’ is played among neighbours in an apartment building.
I began to think about how complicated the storyline would become, with the many suspicious residents involved, all of whom live in the same building. Coincidentally, Nippon TV provided an opportunity to create a drama series that would span two consecutive seasons, a format that was designed with overseas markets in mind from the get-go. I knew right then that Your Turn to Kill was perfect for this initiative and would become even more entertaining with double the airtime. That was how this 20-episode mystery drama came to be.

What’s the audience appeal for a mystery series such as this?
In real life, when a crime happens, everybody wonders who did it and why. The same is true for dramas. Mysteries spark viewers’ desire to get to the truth, perhaps because it’s human nature to feel anxious when awful crimes happen, unless we find out who did it and why. In Your Turn to Kill, the mystery thickens as one murder leads to the next. When signs begin to show that there might be a lone serial killer, you feel like you are beginning to understand what is going on. Suddenly, things seem simpler because there is now only one bad guy. That is when people are overcome by the need to know who it is.

What was the writing process behind the series?
As the concept creator, Mr Akimoto was essentially the showrunner who provided ideas. Scriptwriter Mitsunori Fukuhara and I took those ideas to build a story. We started by thinking about the types of characters that would be interesting – their secrets, worries, and towards whom they would have murderous thoughts. Then we worked on the order of the killings and what revelations there would be, all the while incorporating who should look suspicious at every twist and turn.
When the show started, we monitored viewers’ reactions and increased or decreased the purposely misleading mystery elements accordingly. Our objective was to shock people by doing something they least expected, and we had to be quite flexible to achieve that, to the point where we even killed a character that would normally stay alive through to the end.

Your Turn to Kill centres on a married couple who move into an apartment block where residents soon start dying

How do you ensure viewers attach themselves to so many characters, so they are affected by the deaths during the series?
Before the characters were killed, we revealed their problems so that viewers can develop an emotional attachment to them. Troubles between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law; the bond between a father and a daughter who are not related by blood; people who do bizarre things; and attention-grabbing personalities were all incorporated to evoke empathy.
Moreover, we produced Behind the Door as a short drama for streaming on our SVoD service Hulu Japan. It gave a glimpse into the conflicts and bonds happening behind closed doors in each apartment and helped the viewers as well as the actors understand the characters better. The door to a particular apartment was opened in each episode of Behind the Door, and this led to people speculating that someone living in that home would be the next to die on Your Turn to Kill. In effect, it stimulated the imagination of the fans even more and gave them an extra way to play the detective.
We wanted people to feel like they couldn’t stop talking about the drama, so we created scenes that would shake them at the core instead of creating a build-up. It was all about killing the character that nobody expected would die, or discovering corpses in the most shocking ways, and we all put our heads together to come up with ideas.

What is the visual style of the series?
Our director Noriyoshi Sakuma, from Nippon TV’s drama production team, made the characters look more suspicious by asking the actors to create ambiguous expressions and gestures that could be interpreted in various ways. He then used multiple techniques such as using high-speed cameras for slow motion, filming from tilted angles and doing close-ups of eyes and lips.

What were the challenges you faced in production?
With hints of horror and numerous murders, this drama might not have had universal appeal. Nonetheless, we wanted it to reach as many people as possible, so the initial promotional campaign was a challenge. For example, the trailer of the movie It had catchy voiceovers in Japan, which inspired us to create light and upbeat promotional material, suggesting that this is a drama with unexpected twists, for just about any drama fan.
As the story unfolded, speculation from the fans increased and they became more sensitive to even the subtlest hints. It became a challenge to keep proving their predictions wrong and to continue hiding the truth.

The drama generated a great deal of social media discussion

How did you choose the apartment building setting used in the story?
We wanted an apartment building that the average Japanese family would live in, not something for the super-rich or those less wealthy. It was important that viewers saw themselves living in the building we showed and would not feel like it was unattainable or a place for outlaws they would not want to associate with. Enabling people to see themselves in the shoes of the characters makes them more likely to feel the fear and suspense of the drama in a personal way.

Is there a secret to making thrilling mystery drama?
I believe it is doing the unexpected. People are always predicting what will happen next based on what just occurred. Not being straightforward is the key to avoiding boredom and piquing their desire to see the next episode. The most unexpected twist was the death of the main character, and I believe this was the turning point that drew even more fans to Your Turn to Kill.

How are drama series evolving in Japan and what new stories and trends are emerging?
Your Turn to Kill made me realise how social media and YouTube have become such an integral part of our lives. This drama triggered fans to draw their own suspicions and discuss them with each other on social media, bringing forth a new way of enjoying a programme outside of its scheduled airtime/stream time.
Our viewers didn’t just passively accept what was shown to them. They took to their devices, shared their thoughts and showed each other how their predictions fared after the broadcast. Dramas based on existing IP and remakes of overseas titles still dominate the local landscape, but I believe original dramas with plots that are difficult to predict and truths that nobody can uncover will see a resurgence.

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Nature of the Beast

Japanese director Nobuo Mizuta tells DQ about the challenges of making a romantic drama in the shape of Nippon TV’s Weakest Beast, the story of two 30-somethings struggling to find love until they unwittingly cross paths.

Following the success of Nippon TV relationship dramas Mother and Woman – My Life for My Children, the Japanese broadcaster is bringing a romantic drama to international audiences.

Nobuo Mizuta

Weakest Beast is described as a love story for adults who hope to find romance but are crippled by fear or anxiety. The series follows two modern-day millennials: a 30-year-old woman who does everything perfectly at work yet is constantly keeping her emotions in check and a street smart, charming 33-year-old ladies’ man. He trusts no one until one fateful day draws these two people together. Will they finally follow their gut instincts and open their hearts?

Weakest Beast is produced by Nippon TV’s drama series producer Kyoko Matsumoto and directed by Nobuo Mizuta (Mother, Woman – My Life for My Children, Anone). Here, Mizuta, who is also operating officer and president of production at Nippon TV, tells DQ how the series was conceived and why it has become a social phenomenon in Japan.

What are the origins of the project?
Akiko Nogi, the scriptwriter, and our producer Kyoko Matsumoto had previously worked together on The Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami. Ms Matsumoto asked Ms Nogi to create something for Nippon TV again, and that is how Weakest Beast was born. It turns out Ms Nogi mentioned she wanted me to direct it. Ms Nogi is consistent with her theme and she focuses on how challenging it is for women to navigate the world in this day and age. No matter what people say, there are still a lot of stubborn men who are not sensitive at all. Many can attest to how tough it still is to live as a woman.
As the writing process unfolded, I realised some masculine aspects were interpreted by women in ways that were so different from a male perspective. It was eye-opening. For example, the old boyfriend of the lead female character came out like such a loser, even though I thought he was not that bad! Ms Nogi, Ms Matsumoto and another experienced female producer always made sure they checked their perceptions with each other, and they had many convincing depictions of men and their behaviours and thoughts that resonated strongly with female viewers (and male viewers, in the end).

What is Akiko Nogi’s writing process like?
Ms Nogi’s early drafts are already quite well written. I have worked with a lot of screenwriters and she is in the upper tier. She has excellent composition skills. Screenwriters write as they imagine scenes, but we directors work in reality. I know, for example, that I can reach ‘that wall’ in three steps, but all that writers can do is imagine it, so there will always be a difference – and on some points, I insist on depicting things the way I see fit.

Romantic comedy Weakest Beast focuses on a pair of modern-day millennials

How do you film television dramas?
I have a unique way of filming dramas, which tends to draw the interest of writers. I believe it is not merely about having different cameras, lenses and lighting techniques. I do not stop the actors in the middle of the scene. I also minimise the number of cameras on set. I designate one main camera that will capture the most crucial essence of the scene and then film that scene from top to bottom without cuts. Then I change the angles and lighting before doing another run. I never try to make the cast act in a way that would fit a particular cut I have in mind. In a way, this method resembles documentary filmmaking, which is a bit different from the way other directors shoot dramas. It gives actors the freedom to portray their roles. I just tell them to be free and act. This brings forth more reality to the finished product, because acting is really about reflexes.

Is it challenging to make a romantic drama?
Yes, because I have not had much success in romance! For Weakest Beast, we tried to be a bit ‘snobbish’ and depict scenes in difficult or indirect ways because that’s the way Ms Nogi’s script was written. Challenging stories like this are the ones that make you feel it was worth all your effort. And when you begin to feel that all your hard work is worth it, the sense of difficulty disappears. It feels more worthwhile working on difficult portrayals.

How did you find the location for the series?
Finding the right location is one of the most crucial elements of pre-production. Preparation is 80% of a director’s job. That includes writing and casting. Filming is only about 5%, while 15% is post-production, where we decide how to edit and what music and sound to add. As long as you have done a good job in preparing, there will be no unforeseen occurrences during filming.
Before we decided on Five Tap, a chic craft beer bar where all the characters get together and the drama starts happening, we looked at countless locations. Ms Nogi loves craft beer, so that was in the script from the get-go. She wanted to bring craft beer to the national stage but we realised brewers are our sponsors, so we thought it might be difficult to show on screen. Then, [brewer] Kirin offered to let us use their name on an imaginary product. We were excited because the drama would be complete even if it only showed the main characters drinking beer every time.
What we wanted was a pub in the middle of a residential neighbourhood and not an entertainment district. It was important to have the pub and the female character’s apartment on the same street, with the male character’s office in the middle. Our conditions were quite specific and we wanted to show their geographical placements in one take while they were walking on the street.

Much of the drama unfolds in a craft beer bar

Why do you think Weakest Beast has the potential to attract international audiences?
In many countries, even in developed ones, there are still factors that compel women to speak out, just like what happened with the #MeToo movement. This series focuses on how tough it still is for a woman in this day and age, be it in Japan or elsewhere. I believe we are at a juncture right now that will head towards equality for men and women, and viewers of this series will relate to the characters in the series in how they make decisions on their own to make their life better and meaningful.

Why has the series been described as a social phenomenon among millennial viewers?
Ms Nogi really wanted to write a story that accurately reflects men and women in modern society. Take a look at the male character: he talks badly about people behind their backs, and yet he does not present better alternatives or show leadership qualities. He also passes out when he drinks, even when he is with a woman. Isn’t he so typical of the guys you see nowadays? He basically feels no pressure to act like a man.
The woman does everything perfectly at work, while constantly keeping her emotions in check. All she wants is to fall madly in love and have a relationship where she can be true to herself, but every day passes without progress. She soon realises she has been the perfect employee and girlfriend yet this is getting her nowhere. These are the kind of examples that made viewers post so many responding messages on social media sites during and after watching.

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So Kawaii

The Japanese phenomenon of ‘kawaii’ comes to television in Nippon TV’s 10-part drama Way Too Kawaii, starring Yudai Chiba. Producer Arisa Mori tells DQ about this millennial craze and how it was used as the backdrop for this fish-out-of-water story.

In 2014, four new words were added to the Collins English Dictionary. Four years on, ‘photobomb,’ ‘selfie’ and ‘onesie’ have become widespread in their use within everyday language.

But the fourth, ‘kawaii,’ remains relatively unknown outside of Japan and fans of Japanese culture. Officially, it is defined as a “Japanese artistic and cultural style that emphasises the quality of cuteness, using bright colours and characters with a childlike appearance.”

The phenomenon, which has become synonymous with Tokyo’s Harajuku district, is now the subject of a 10-part drama called Way Too Kawaii, which comes from Japan’s Nippon TV. The series, aimed at millennials, follows Nankichi (played by Yudai Chiba), a book editor at a major publishing company who suddenly finds himself transferred to a teen fashion magazine.

He struggles to find his way in this new world dominated by strong-willed women. But he gradually becomes inspired by his new job as he learns to love kawaii.

Based on Kozue Osaki’s novel Pretty Ga Osugiru, Way Too Kawaii is written by Shuko Arai and Mako Watanabe, directed by Mitsuru Kubota and produced by Arisa Mori for Nippon TV, which is also distributing the series internationally.

Filming finished in the spring, and the show is scheduled to air this month in Japan in Nippon TV’s weekly Thursday night drama slot, as well as on Hulu Japan, the most popular SVoD platform in the country

Here, producer Mori tells DQ more about kawaii and how she brought this vivid world to life.

How would you describe the story?
This is a career drama series that showcases the hard-working people who create kawaii. A young and elite editor who works for a publishing company was the star of the literary editing department until he finds himself unwillingly transferred to a teen fashion magazine. He works resentfully, butting heads with colleagues where kawaii reigns supreme. As he struggles along his way, he witnesses the professionalism behind it all and sees there is a passionate spirit beneath the glitz and glamour – and romance blossoms.

When did you fist consider adapting the novel and why?
Our goal was to produce a drama for international viewers right from the beginning stages of planning. To make the most of the project, I thought it would be best to feature a concept that is proudly Japanese, and we decided on an original work about the kawaii culture and the people who work at a young and trendy fashion magazine. Also, I found the original title Pretty Ga Osugiru (There’s Pretty Everywhere) to be so catchy that it left an indelible impression on me and became a factor in considering the work.

Arisa Mori

What attracted you to the story?
There are a lot of people like the main character who are feeling torn because of failing to land their dream job. But a job is not about doing only what you love – I believe people grow through their profession when they experience different kinds of struggles. One of the attractions of this story is its depiction of the pervasive theme in many people’s lives: what makes a job satisfying? Set in the editing department of this trendy fashion magazine, the workplace seems glamorous on the surface, but the people are actually also doing humbling tasks day after day. That contrast is something I find very appealing.

How was the series developed with Nippon TV and Hulu Japan?
Nippon TV is in charge of singlehandedly producing and broadcasting Way Too Kawaii. Hulu Japan, a subsidiary of ours, is not involved in the production. However, we have planned for Hulu to stream the series one hour before our broadcast. We also want to bring the show to the attention of digital-conscious viewers.

How would you describe the adaptation and writing process with Shuko Arai and Mako Watanabe?
The first two episodes were penned by Arai and episodes three to 10 by Watanabe. Before the writing process began, they interviewed people working in the editing departments of Harajuku fashion magazines, as well as models. Arai also went to Harajuku and gathered ideas by talking to people who run clothes shops that are popular among young people. Watanabe worked at a publishing company as a magazine editor until recently and was able to tap into her personal experience. None of us, including the producers, directors, and screenwriters, were experts in Harajuku’s fashion culture so we all learned an incredible amount and were fascinated during the pre-production research and interviews.

Yudai Chiba plays an editor who finds himself working on a trendy fashion magazine

How would you describe the look and design of the series, inspired by Kawaii?
Harajuku’s kawaii culture is uniquely pop and colourful. Not simply cute and adorable, it is at times crazy, toxic and original. In order to visually express this, we set incredibly high standards in creating the set for the editing department of the fashion magazine, as well as the clothes and make-up of the models. We even asked some of the actors to dye their hair in flashy colours, wear multicoloured wigs and put other fun things on their heads. It was important for us to show as much of Harajuku’s street fashion as possible, so we also asked real-life fashion stylists for Harajuku fashion magazines to select clothes and accessories for us. As for styling, we put together different patterns to come up with diverse ensembles and made sure the motifs were as colourful as they could be in order to depict a Harajuku world though Way Too Kawaii.

How did you cast Yudai Chiba in the lead role?
I decided to cast him for the main role because one of the producers on this project, Reina Oda (Your Home is My Business, Pretty Proofreader), had worked with Chiba numerous times and she continues to be impressed by his unmistakable acting talent and professionalism. Chiba has a cute look and has starred in many works that portray him as kawaii, so I thought it would be great to have him do something different by playing a stiff editor who hates kawaii. There was a part of me that wanted to see him enter a new frontier in his acting, and it worked out perfectly.

Way Too Much Kawaii is set in Tokyo’s Harajuku district

Why do you think this series will appeal to millennial viewers?
We millennials have a very open mind when enjoying content; I don’t think about where it was produced or what nationality the star is, as long as it is entertaining. Moreover, Japanese content has so much potential. This series has an amazing story that viewers of the same age as the lead actor can deeply relate to. What’s more, it is filmed in the holy land of Japanese kawaii culture, Harajuku.
It is home to many shops that sell unconventional fashion, as well as ‘Instragrammable’ and photogenic sweets. The unique Harajuku culture transcends borders and has the power to captivate young people across the world. Each episode of Way Too Kawaii is fast-paced and unfolds in 30 minutes, making it suitable to enjoy on smartphones and other portable devices.

What were the biggest challenges in production?
In Japan, the filming and editing of drama series typically happens in parallel. But because Way Too Kawaii was intended for international viewers from the get-go, we wanted to finish filming four months before broadcast and complete the editing three months before its debut. In so doing, we were able to focus our efforts on the international roll-out from a very early stage and, thankfully, we have already sold the title in nine countries and regions in Asia, where it will be broadcast and streamed virtually at the same time as Japan. We began preparing early for the Asian world premiere in the hope that its international premiere today at Mipcom will pique the interest of viewers in Europe, the US and all other territories. Our aim is to continue with more projects like Way Too Kawaii and develop Nippon TV content for the enjoyment of the global audience.
But all things considered, filming in Harajuku was quite the challenge. Regardless of the day, the streets are packed and bustling with young people and tourists, which at times made it difficult for us to continue shooting. We overcame these hurdles by making adjustments such as minimising the number of filming crew and using compact equipment so that we could shoot and be done speedily. It was challenging but it created quite a unique series, so it was very rewarding.

Why might Way Too Kawaii appeal to international audiences?
With the Olympics coming to Tokyo in 2020, we are experiencing a huge rise in tourism to Japan. Harajuku is visited by tourists from all over the world. To say that ‘kawaii’ can be heard here more than any other place on the planet may not be an exaggeration. I hope that through Way Too Kawaii, people will feel the energy that Harajuku radiates and see how it is the epicentre of all things trendy among the younger generations. Perhaps we can even expect travel channels to get interested in this drama series.
Moreover, this story is not simply about being catchy and unique. As the main character struggles in a new position that feels completely foreign to him, Way Too Kawaii depicts the challenges and joys of work and has all the makings to be a frontrunner in the work-focused drama genre. People across all generations will find something they can relate to in this programme.

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Going it Anone

Japanese producer Hisashi Tsugiya has reunited with the writer behind Mother and Woman for Nippon TV’s latest drama series, Anone. He tells DQ about the show’s origins and how its fantasy elements set it apart from their previous collaborations.

As a leading producer at Japan’s Nippon TV, Hisashi Tsugiya (pictured above) is credited with making a new drama series every year since 2004 while working alongside some of the country’s leading directors, writers and actors.

Most notably, he has produced every drama for scriptwriter Yuji Sakamoto, alongside award-winning director Nobuo Mizuta. These include Mother, Woman – My Life for My Children and their latest collaboration, 10-part series Anone.

With Nippon TV celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, Tsugiya tells DQ more about Anone and offers his insights into the Japanese television drama industry.

‘Fake’ is the theme at the heart of Nippon TV’s Anone

How would you describe the story of Anone?
This is a story about the pseudo mother-daughter relationship between a lead character who was abandoned by her parents and grew up in an orphanage, and a widow who wanted to become a mother but was not able to. ‘Fake’ is the main theme of the drama, and one way we consider this concept is through the widow who used to run a print shop with her now-deceased husband. After her husband’s passing, she discovers a huge sum of fake paper currency underneath the floor of her print shop. So we juxtaposed their encounter with the discovery of the fake cash to shed light on how human life is not about money. This is a story about finding what is truly important in life.

What is the origin of the story?
Anone is written by Yuji Sakamoto, who is also the screenwriter of Mother and Woman – My Life for My Children. After Mother, Sakamoto and I discussed a story about fake money. There’s a tendency to imagine a crime or suspense story when people hear ‘fake money,’ but Anone is not about that. It’s about how fake things are controlling humans. Sakamoto and I had many conversations about how we could use fake money to depict human nature, lifestyle and values instead of crime and suspense.

What does the title mean and how does it reflect the story?
Anone is a word similar to ‘and,’ ‘by the way,’ or ‘let me tell you something’ in English, and it implies there is something that will come immediately after.

Tell us about your partnership with writer Yuji Sakamoto and director Nobuo Mizuta. How do you all work together?
We don’t really sit and discuss what we are going to produce next. It’s more like having dinner together and talking about current affairs such as recent crimes, or things in the world that infuriate us. Suddenly we find ourselves saying that the topic we just discussed would be a good drama. That’s how we come up with ideas. Both Mother [about a woman who helps an abused girl] and Woman [which depicts a single mother’s struggle against poverty] were born out of Sakamoto’s anger towards society. There’s no way anybody can create a story on something they don’t feel genuinely about, and Sakamoto is someone who can pen a story only if it’s based on what he feels. It has to come from his emotions.

The team behind Anone were also responsible for fellow Nippon drama Mother

How would you describe the development process behind the show?
The first episode takes the longest to write, and then we have subsequent discussions about certain parts of the story to flesh out scenarios and situations. The process of creating the characters, from the lead to the supporting ones, also involves conversations. Then I entrust everything to Sakamoto for about one month and he develops the plot. His first draft is usually enormous. This is also the stage where we begin to visualise who to cast – the lead character, types of encounters and relationships we will need down the line, the necessary acting skills and the preferred physical appearances.
Mizuta has his own views and ideas of what he wants to do based on what he sees in the world, and it requires a tremendous amount of talent to take a story on paper and put it into visual form. But Mizuta is a cut above the rest and I always marvel at how brilliantly he handles everything. Mizuta respects Sakamoto’s scripts and has the skills to do them justice, so they continue to work together from one project to another.

Where was the series filmed and how do the locations fit into the story?
This drama’s theme is ‘fake,’ so we wanted the geographical aspect not to be realistic as well. Places like Tokyo or Yokohama are real and that’s why we didn’t use them. We looked instead for cities and rural locations that look familiar but left the exact location vague. The print shop is set deep in Kawasaki but the oceanfront, with all those concrete breakwaters, which in the drama is within walking distance, is actually in Fuji. The wind turbines are also far off in Kashima, but they too are within walking distance in the story. What you’ll always notice, though, throughout the drama are the blue skies and ocean.

Woman – My Life for My Children, which like Anone has a strong family focus

How does Anone compare or contrast with Mother and Woman?
Fundamentally, Anone is similar to Mother and Woman in that they share the theme of family and what it is all about. The difference with Anone is that it has a slight fantasy element. In the first episode, the main character flashes back to a past memory that turns out to be fake. What happened was too painful, so her brain altered it into a fun memory, and in order to depict these scenes, we used fantasy elements. In episode four, it is revealed that Anone (the widow)’s baby had died before being born, but she believes she actually gave birth to a girl and still has conversations with her. Fantasy elements expand the artistic possibilities of dramas and this is something we couldn’t do with Mother and Woman, which is what makes Anone different.

How would you describe the state of Japanese television drama?
This is a difficult question. Television is rapidly diversifying but people’s demand to see dramas within that platform is declining. A while ago, there was one TV set in the house and people gathered around it to watch programmes together. Japan is finally seeing the growth of dramas streamed online and more people are watching on their smartphones whenever and wherever they want. This situation influences the stories we show but in this fast-changing environment, at times we just have to put content out there and see how the result will be. It can be quite challenging, but I believe Japan is at a turning point.

In what ways are Japanese dramas evolving amid the huge number of series being produced around the world?
Dramas don’t really change, in my opinion. Athletes, for example, can join the national championships, win and qualify for the Olympics, but as they go from one stage to the next, they don’t really change their playing style and training methods, right? Much in the same way, Japanese dramas don’t really change just because they want to go overseas. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be Japanese dramas. That’s why I don’t think they will be evolving that much.
Japanese dramas are being localised overseas, but I don’t think it’s because people are so interested in our country’s culture or want to enjoy our scenery. People the world over are beginning to feel as one. No matter which country you’re from, the way people think, how they feel, what touches them, what makes them sad, are all the same. Dramas that depict how people’s emotions are universal have a better chance of succeeding globally.

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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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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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Down to Business

The property business gets personal in Japanese drama Your Home is My Business. DQ speaks to producer Reina Oda about developing the series, which is being remade in China.

The role of an estate agent is to sell homes – but that’s just part of the job for the character at the centre of Japanese drama Your Home is My Business.

Keiko Kitagawa plays Machi Sangenya, a 30-year-old estate agent who becomes involved in the problems of her customers and their families as she bids to close her next sale.

Reina Oda

The 10-episode series originally aired on Nippon TV in July 2016, before returning for a one-off special on May 26 in response to fan demand. The follow-up also marked an ambitious leap for the series, including a storyline featuring a Chinese man who wants to buy a home in Japan and a scene in which Kitagawa spoke Chinese.

Speaking to the popularity of the series outside Japan, the special episode simultaneously aired on Nippon TV’s GEM channel in South-East Asia, reaching audiences in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

In April this year, with Nippon also distributing the series internationally, Shanghai-based production company Youhug Media acquired the format rights with a view to a Chinese remake.

Chinese scriptwriter Liu Liu (Dwelling Narrowness, Calculation) is set to pen the remake and production is slated to begin in early 2018.

Series producer Reina Oda tells DQ how she developed the idea for the original show and explains why the biggest challenge was finding the right filming locations.

Tell us about the story of Your Home is My Business.
Your Home is My Business is an exciting workplace drama with genius real-estate agent Machi Sangenya as the main character. Boasting that “there isn’t a home I can’t sell,” Machi goes beyond the scope of her job and delves into the personal problems of her clients, ultimately finding them a surprising but satisfactory solution.

What are the origins of the series?
Before I became a drama producer, I was a director for entertainment shows [at Nippon TV] and one of the programmes I worked on was Ariyoshi Seminar. It had a segment called ‘Shinobu Sakagami Buys a Home,’ which documented a Japanese celebrity’s search for a house. Your Home is My Business was born out of my involvement with that segment. It became clear to me back then that the process of buying and selling a home was something that could be made into a drama. A home is usually the biggest purchase in life and the segment was entertaining because the celebrity depicted how passionate a person can become when buying a house. It was also a success in terms of capturing the interest of viewers who were not even thinking of buying a home. That led me to believe that a drama would have the same appeal. I think purchasing a house is just as dramatic as being cured of a disease, and I knew many people  would enjoy Your Home is My Business.

How was the show developed for Nippon TV?
I asked the cast members to keep their acting energy levels high to make Your Home is My Business more dramatic. For example, throughout the series Machi yells out “Go!” with her signature glare. I had a conversation with director Ryuichi Inomata about how, in this day and age, it’s difficult to get people to watch a drama series even if you put a lot of effort into the script and production. He then came up with the idea of exaggerating the acting by several notches throughout the episodes. He knew it was a risky move, but we decided to go for it.

How would you describe the writing process?
We interviewed about 30 real-estate agents before the start of shooting. We hired staff that specialise in interviewing these agents to find unique homes and interesting problems and pitfalls that are a part of the home-purchasing process. I also met with the agents and incorporated a lot of the stories they shared into the drama. They particularly enjoyed talking about clients who wanted homes for their mistresses, or properties that had been the scenes of accidents or crimes. In the third episode, there is a client who buys a US$1m home complete with a sunroof for their pet turtle. This was actually a true story. Of course, there are also some parts that are completely made-up, like in the fourth episode when a US$1.5m property sells for double [the price]. But most of the realistic stories are actually based on real life. There were times when we got really absorbed in the scriptwriting process and looked back at our interview notes and noticed things we had not used, like troubles with loud neighbours. The interviews with the real-estate agents enabled us to let our imagination take off.
When I came up with the idea for the show, I was already thinking about the concept of solving family problems through selling the home. In order to work that into the drama, but I needed to research the problems families in Japan face today. I found that there is an increase in the number of middle-aged recluses who hole up in their rooms and refuse to leave. The number of women who are deciding to stay single for their entire life is also growing. Today, there are many married couples who cannot afford their own home but they find living with their parents suffocating, so the folks get them somewhere or they find a place nearby. For the drama, I combined these social problems with issues involving the actual property, such as lack of space, accidents and crime.

What did the director bring to the show?
We made it a point to keep the acting energetic and tried to create a comical effect in a theatrical or manga style. At first I was worried that a manga effect might ruin the flow of the story, so I consulted with Ryuichi. He mentioned the challenge that we, as well as the other broadcasters in Japan, face – despite the hard work that goes into production, it is difficult to get people to watch dramas these days as they air on linear TV. With that in mind, he encouraged me to take the risk and go for it. For example, when you hear ‘whoa!’ during a soccer game on TV, you suddenly get interested, right? We tried to create the same effect. Whenever Machi would yell “Go!” in the trailers, we wanted people to get surprised and end up watching the show. These were all the director’s ideas.

Your Home is My Business stars Keiko Kitagawa (left) as Machi Sangenya

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
From the very early stages, I had Keiko Kitagawa in mind for the main character. Machi has a dignified and larger-than-life presence with looks that are out of this world. I could not think of anyone else for the role besides Keiko. It turns out that in real life she is also pretty straightforward, and she said the role felt quite natural for her. When it comes to work, she has a serious, head-on approach that resembles Machi perfectly.

Where was the series filmed and how did you use the locations on screen?
It was incredibly challenging to find actual real-estate properties to use as locations. In the first episode, a married couple work long hours as doctors in the same hospital. They are worried that their young child is always lonely at home, so they want to live right in front of the hospital and have the kid come out to the veranda to say hi. I had no idea where we were going to find such a home, and I even worried that we might have to use computer graphics instead. But thanks to our hardworking production team, we found an empty home that was right in front of a hospital. It was so perfect that you would think the screenwriter, Shizuka Oishi, wrote the story with the property in mind! I had goosebumps when I actually saw the place, and the cast was really happy we had found it. Looking back, the property we used for that episode was the most difficult to find.
There were times when we filmed on location at empty homes, and also in the studio. We even built sets that you simply won’t find in real life, such as one we used in the third episode that had a staircase so narrow that a fat person would get stuck. At one point, we had about five different types of homes in the studio. There was a time when it seemed like all we did was build and then destroy homes.

The drama sees estate agent Machi solving clients’ problems while selling property

What were the biggest challenges you faced during production?
Apart from finding the real-life properties, it was also difficult creating plots in which Machi could solve her clients’ family problems in the process of selling a home. While several solutions to family problems might come to mind, we still needed to tie it together with selling a home, and that required a lot of thought. It was also challenging coming up with different ways of having Machi sell homes. The first script completed was for episode two, which featured a middle-aged recluse. Shizuka suggested that, instead of creating a story where we persuade the recluse to finally come out of the house, we should find a home so that the recluse can be as comfortable as if he were living in a palace. That was when I had a eureka moment. We established Machi as a heroine who thinks outside the box and does not get caught up in preconceived norms. Truth be told, though, it was difficult to come up with every scenario. Even before we created the show, Shizuka had always wanted to write a female protagonist who was unlike the typical Japanese employee who worries about compliance and sugarcoats everything they say, instead going for someone who is frank and straightforward. We were meticulous about developing a character who could say things bluntly without offending viewers.

How would you describe the current state of TV dramas in Japan?
Nowadays, even if you write a good script, put together a glittering cast and film the scenes well, there are times when the show still can’t get a following. In that sense, it’s difficult to analyse the market and draw an overarching conclusion. In terms of viewers, the new ‘Total Viewership Rate’ was introduced last year in Japan, which adds time-shifted [DVR] viewing to the traditional real-time viewing. Viewers who do both are not counted twice. As a result, we are now able to accurately see which programmes are being viewed the most. With internet streaming also becoming the norm, there is definitely a diversification in the way people watch dramas.

Are viewers’ tastes changing in Japan or do the same shows continue to be popular?
It’s natural for viewers’ tastes to change along with the times, so I don’t see the same shows continuing their popularity. For example, ‘trendy’ dramas became popular in Japan from 1988 to 1990 but if we make them now, we probably won’t get a following. [Trendy dramas refer to modern series that depicted urban men and women, their romances and cosmopolitan trends.]
There are many types of dramas in the Japanese market today. Some are so peaceful that there isn’t a single character you can dislike. There are also sordid love-hate stories. I happen to enjoy both. I think the allure of the Japanese drama market lies in its diversity and maturity, and I would be happy if it gets noticed by viewers around the world.

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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 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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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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The Last Cop: How to go from German to Japanese

Michael Pickard speaks to the key players involved in the translation of German hit The Last Cop into Japanese.

With local versions produced in France and Estonia and a Russian adaptation in the works, German drama The Last Cop has proven to be a worldwide hit.

Originally produced by ITV Studios Germany for Sat.1, it tells the story of a policeman who ends up in a coma after being shot – and wakes up many years later in the present day.

Most recently it has been translated for Japanese audiences after Nippon TV and VoD platform Hulu Japan agreed a format deal with distributor Red Arrow International. The show debuted in June, achieving a 20.8% viewing share.

It stars acclaimed Japanese film star Toshiaki Karasawa as Kyogoku, the cop who has been comatose for 30 years. His partner is played by Masataka Kubota, with the cast also including Emi Wakui, Ichirota Miyakawa and Nozomi Sasaki.

Jamie I, Red Arrow International’s VP of sales for Asia Pacific, explains: “The Last Cop has been incredibly successful in Germany. It’s been running for five seasons in a Monday primetime slot. For that slot, it’s topped the channel average by more than 180%.”

But what makes this show a good fit for international remakes? I says the simple storyline can resonate well with audiences, particularly those in Asia.

The original German version of The Last Cop
The original German version of The Last Cop

“Given that TV audiences in Japan skew quite old, the format is perfect because it really evokes that nostalgia,” she says. “It’s perfect for the demographic. We have had a number of different versions. The French version is quite different from the German version, set later in the 1990s. It’s a bit more serious and more serialised. The German version is more procedural and a little bit tongue-in-cheek. There’s a humorous part to it with the fish-out-of-water storyline.”

Mikiko Nishiyama, senior director of international business at Nippon TV, says the broadcaster had worked with Red Arrow before so when the channel was looking for new dramas, the distributor was a natural partner.

“Two or three years ago, one of our producers was quite interested to look for new drama IP,” she recalls. “I took him to Red Arrow and they showed us some of the titles. One of them was The Last Cop. We liked it a lot but there wasn’t the atmosphere for remakes.

“Then when Hiroyuki Ueno (producer and manager at the programming division of Nippon TV) went to see Red Arrow at MipTV 2014, he also really liked The Last Cop. Then we brought it back to Japan and we started work.”

I then travelled to Japan several times to meet with production staff. “The legal side was quite complicated. It was really about timing and patience, but we got it done and the show looks fantastic,” she says.

“In Asia, local domestic drama is so strong, particularly in Japan, so it’s very unusual to have a European format in these territories. But it’s certainly an area that is opening up as broadcasters and production companies look for new ideas.

“They’re definitely more open to it, so we’re exploring that. On the back of The Last Cop Japan, we’re talking to broadcasters in Korea, Vietnam and India, and there’s also a lot of interest in the Japanese version in new territories.”

The simple premise of The Last Cop allows local broadcasters plenty of room to adapt it for local sensibilities. Ueno says he and his production team focused on how to characterise the cast, particularly the main character and his partner, for a Japanese audience.

“That was the most important point in creating the Japanese version,” he says. “The Japanese audience is not used to very serious or complicated drama, especially if it is new, so we had to make it easier to understand and easier to attract the audience. So we put a lot of comedy into the drama.

“The original The Last Cop focuses on the main character, but we made it more of a buddy series to get the audience into it and make it easier to understand. Also in the original, the main character wakes up after 17 years, but we changed it to 30 years, because in Japan 30 years ago it was a special time we call the ‘Bubble Age’ because the economy was very high but there were no computers, no smartphones.

The story follows a police officer who awakes from a 30-year coma
The story follows a police officer who awakes from a 30-year coma

“The partner is a younger guy so the younger generation can understand the younger character and the older ages can understand the main character’s reactions (to the present day). So we can get both audiences.”

It wasn’t just Nippon TV’s audience the producers had to consider, however. The Last Cop Japan was Hulu Japan’s first original drama, and the first coproduction between Nippon and Hulu Japan.

Ueno says: “After we aired it on terrestrial TV, it was delivered on Hulu. Hulu’s main target is men aged 20 to 30, so that’s why we put more action in it. But if we put too much in, women would not watch – so we made it very balanced.

“It’s very rare that we adapt foreign drama to make a Japanese version. Foreign drama has a lot of action. The original The Last Cop doesn’t have that many action scenes but everyone thinks foreign drama must have lots of action, so we added more.”

Hulu Japan launched in 2011 and is now owned by Nippon TV, making it an attractive coproduction partner. Earlier this year the service hit one million subscribers.

Kazufumi Nagasawa, chief content officer of HJ Holdings, which operates Hulu Japan, says The Last Cop has performed well on the back of its terrestrial run. The platform also picked up the original German version, Der letzte Bulle, in April.

“Anything that performs well on terrestrial will generally be successful on Hulu too,” he says. “Given the nature of the service, audiences are ready to follow serialised drama. Some customers are used to binge-watching using DVD rentals, but we have made it easier for them.

“The Last Cop has generated strong customer feedback. The drama is very well done, but it was also boosted by heavy promotion from Nippon TV. The combination of the quality of drama and the huge promotion delivered a great result for us. So we’re very willing to continue on that kind of project.”

Nishiyama says that if a broadcaster in Japan wants good ratings, it must have good dramas. This means targeting older demographics, as she says younger people are no longer watching live TV.

“They’re watching on catch-up or through their VoD systems,” she explains. “The main audience for the TV market is still around 40. So we have to target them to get good ratings – but at the same time we have to target the younger generation to get the VoD market. VoD platforms are doing very well with animation and variety shows, but drama is the most important thing.”

Japan's version stars film actor Toshiaki Karasawa (left)
Japan’s version stars film actor Toshiaki Karasawa (left)

Nishiyama adds that while genre series like The Walking Dead might be popular online, terrestrial Japanese audiences prefer their drama rooted in real life.

“People like drama that’s more real life-based, not about zombies or space,” she says. “It’s more everyday-life drama that’s really important on terrestrial TV. It’s a very different market from Hollywood drama. From an international sales point of view, the Japanese like things based on Japanese life. That’s why everybody calls us the Galapagos market. Because the Japanese love their own life and customs.”

But on Hulu, 50% of content is taken from the US, Nagasawa reveals. “We have some European content, mainly from the BBC. The rest is domestic. Japanese drama is very strong in Japan and given that we are a subscription service, foreign drama is the main driver for customers. That’s not something you can watch for free.

“The Walking Dead is a title that gets the biggest number of customers because it’s not something you can watch on terrestrial TV.”

In the future, Ueno says he is looking for titles from the Nordic region or other countries that can follow in The Last Cop’s success and become Nippon’s next adapted drama.

“Ten or 20 years ago we did lots of foreign dramas on terrestrial TV,” he says. “We don’t do that much now, only late at night. So I’m looking for primetime series, and that means remakes.”

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