Is releasing a French film in Japan necessarily a financial gamble for distributors?
It all depends on the film. For example, all of the films presented at this year's French Film Festival in Japan fit in pretty well with what Japanese audiences like and expect from French productions: The Midwife, Rodin, Cézanne and I, Eternity, and From the Land of the Moon are more or less mainstream films that will appeal to the largest audience group in Japan—women, specifically women of a certain age. When a distributer releases a film like these titles, I don't think they see it as taking a risk, as they would already have a clear idea of the figures they would be aiming to achieve. Heal the Living, on the other hand, is perhaps more of a gamble, because the target audience is younger, and maybe a little less well-identified. For a Japanese distributor, a French film that attracts 50,000 spectators is a major success. And the more spectators that come to see the film in Tokyo, where they're first released, the more chance it will have of success in the country's other major cities, such as Kyoto and Osaka.
Do French films have a life in Japan after their theatrical release?
VOD platforms take on films, but only to supplement their catalogues. Japanese distributors don't expect to earn any profits from this kind of viewing platform, there's no minimum guarantee for this type of exposure. Obviously, that doesn't apply to films like Lucy... What works, though, on VOD here and what can bring financial gain is shorter format productions, like series, or even clips.
Is there no hope of appealing to younger movie audiences for French cinema?
Distributors don't want to take too many risks, and we can't expect too much effort from them beyond the release of films that are more or less guaranteed to bring in audiences. But certain gambles taken by distributors have paid off. When Uplink released Evolution by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, nobody would ever have expected the film to register 14,000 admissions. They would have betted on more like 3,000 admissions. It's interesting to observe that when Raw was presented at the festival, it was screened to a full house from the time of its opening weekend of commercial release. That shows that there's a niche that distributors should explore. To come back to Heal the Living, 70% of the audience at the festival was young people. That's a sign that we must continue to show this kind of film, and that it's possible to meet distributors' expectations of theatrical release. UniFrance should be able to reassure distributors and encourage them to take risks on this kind of release without too much stress. This is where the French Film Festival comes in. The CEO of Cine Switch, a theater in the Ginza district that shows a lot of French films, told me that she sees the festival as offering a rare and unique exposure for French films in Japan. As an example, she cited the case of the German Film Festival that virtually came to a complete halt after the 2011 earthquake: since then, the number of German films released in Japan has declined drastically. Nowadays, we see around fifty French films released in Japanese theaters each year, and to maintain those figures and to retain a diversity of productions, the French Film Festival in Japan has an extremely important role to play.