Japanese film director Takafumi Ota had a problem. He needed studio financing for a film that was harshly critical of the nuclear industry in the aftermath of Fukushima, but no one was interested in funding his project the traditional way.
Large sections of Japan’s movie industry wanted nothing to do with it, and he was told that influential sponsors did not want to be associated with anything that criticized the powerful atomic sector.
“It wasn’t only major film distribution companies but also DVD companies — who usually get interested in investing in films to share copyright — who showed no interest in my plan,” said the 52-year-old Ota, whose previous work includes the critically acclaimed 2006 film Strawberry fields, which screened at the Cannes International Film Festival.
“A senior film director told me ‘Don’t do this. You’ll never be able to make commercial films.’”
With few options to make the film, but a groundswell of anti-nuclear feeling in post-Fukushima Japan, Ota turned to the public to make his film in another example of how crowdfunding is changing the face of traditional financing.
The practice sees individuals or firms raise micro-donations from small investors over the Internet. While still small, the market has been booming, with companies such as the pioneering KickStarter offering donation-based funding for creative projects. Globally, the crowdfunding market grew 81 percent last year and was on track to raise US$5.1 billion (NT$150 billion) in 2013, with investments in everything from business startups and philanthropic projects to films and music, according to research firm Massolution.
For Ota, raising money through his blog from a public suspicious of the nuclear industry got him the crucial US$100,000 (NT$3 million) that he needed to make Asahi No Ataru Ie (The House of Rising Sun), a film about a family pulled apart by a Fukushima-like nuclear crisis. Each donor was offered the chance to see their name on the credits.
“The 10 million yen budget is extremely low for a feature-length film, but actors and other staff got on-board despite low salaries,” Ota said.
CAREERS ON THE LINE
Among them was Taro Yamamoto, a 39-year-old actor who is a household name in Japan thanks to his appearances in movies, television dramas and on variety shows.
Yamamoto, who became an outspoken lawmaker following last year’s national elections, began campaigning against nuclear power weeks after the nuclear crisis erupted in March 2011, hoping he could use his fame to bring further attention to the issue.
But he suddenly found the oxygen of publicity — and the source of his salary — cut off.
“Job offers dried up,” Yamamoto said. “Whenever my name was mentioned, sales department people pressured” producers to drop him from a cast, he told AFP.
Ota’s film tells the story of a farming family whose lives are turned upside down in a chaotic and badly-managed evacuation after a nuclear accident, where government information is scarce or unreliable.
Yamamoto’s character is a relative who tries to persuade the family to move to Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island, as they suffer through futile efforts to decontaminate their strawberry fields and one of them develops cancer.
It is now being screened at about 10 independent movie theatres and cinema complexes in Japan.