SciFi Japan

    Shochiku Reveals New Kyoto Studio

    Author: Elliot Gay Source: Shochiku Co., Ltd. Special thanks to Aki Harimoto and Stuart Galbraith IV

    Founded in 1895 as a Kabuki theater company, Shochiku Co., Ltd. has been one of the top movie production and distribution companies in Japan since 1920. The studio has produced the works of some of Japan`s most respected directors; a partial list includes such greats as Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Shimizu, Keisuke Kinoshita, Nagisa Oshima, Yoji Yamada, Kinji Fukusaku, and Takeshi Kitano. Shochiku also created the beloved Tora-San film series, which featured 48 entries produced from 1969-1995 and earned a spot as "the longest movie series in the world" in the Guiness Book of World Records. The studio is also known for its many samurai pictures and as well as cult film favorites like THE X FROM OUTER SPACE and GOKE, BODYSNATCHER FROM HELL. In 2004, Shochiku`s THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI became the first Japanese live-action film in 22 years to receive an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film. This year, Shochiku won the Oscar for their internationally acclaimed hit DEPARTURES.

    In October 2007, the company announced plans to upgrade their Shochiku Kyoto Eiga studio. Established in 1946, the Kyoto studio has long been one of the main production facilities used by Shochiku to create a wide range of motion pictures and television dramas. In partnership with Kyoto Prefecture and Ritsumei-kan University, Shochiku renovated and modernized the studio, with new state-of-the-art facilities that now offer a total film management package. The Kyoto studio will also become a larger part of the city`s culture and give Ritsumei-kan students the opportunity to study the process of filmmaking first-hand. On Tuesday, March 10, Shochiku hosted an opening ceremony for the new Shochiku Kyoto Eiga studio. SciFi Japan was invited to the event, and staffer Elliot Gay and contributor Stuart Galbraith IV attended the opening reception and tour of the upgraded studio. We are pleased to present Elliot`s account of the festivities along with photos provided by Stuart and Shochiku.



    Two months ago, I had the privilege of being able to attend the grand reopening of Shochiku Studios renewed production studio located in Kyoto Japan. Needless to say, the experience was eye opening.

    However, before any of that, I’d like to begin with just a bit of background information on the internationally known Kyoto studio. The branch is extremely well known for being the location that many, if not all of, Shochiku’s chambara [samurai] films and TV dramas have been shot at. Much of this stems from the fact that Kyoto itself is a culturally significant location, with temples and shrines as far as the eye can see. One can’t walk too long without bumping into one or the other; big and small mind you. This mix of old vs. new isn’t just limited to temples and shrines either; architecturally speaking, the city is varied in its appearance, making for a captivating tourist location for both foreigners and domestic tourists. The exact location of the production studio is on the outskirts of the city, just off the Keifuku line on the local train. The stop is Katabiranotsuji Station and after departing, the Studio is just off to the side of the road, hidden behind some smaller storefronts, and yet dwarfing them in size once past. The studio has been in operation since 1946, and they are currently striving to make the location a ‘One Stop” total film package. After my visit there, I’m inclined to believe they have in fact accomplished this goal.

    After arriving at the studio that day, I was met by a group of people leading the guests into one of the main buildings. Once inside, I realized very quickly that this was one of Shochiku’s ‘renewed’ areas: Studio A. Despite the large throngs of people inhabiting the space at the time, the size was still dwarfing. Large white walls lined the area, and the roof was covered in an interesting array of walkways that were designed with crew safety and ease of use in mind. The Shochiku executives were clearly very proud of this, and I can see how this will help make production even more streamlined. The total area was calculated at 495.90m squared. I was also informed that the empty wall on the back of the building where the entrances were was incomplete. They told me that while it hadn’t been installed yet, they had plans to put in large screens so that everyone on the crew could watch the live footage that was being recorded within whatever set currently inhabited the space. I was especially impressed by this idea, if only because it’s something that seems missing from most film studios. Afterward, the head executives of Shochiku called a toast, and made speeches about what they had hoped to accomplish with this “Renewal Project”. Soon after, I was guided to the famous outdoor set. While not renewed, I was impressed to see how well the set was kept: everything was clean, and there actually seemed to be a production filming there despite the event taking place. Talk about working 24/7! The brief tour allowed me to confirm that the set really does look identical to what feudal period Kyoto looked like, and I would recommend that if anyone ever has the chance, to definitely check it out. It’s absolutely incredible.

    Moving on, we next visited the building that housed many of the new features touted in this “Renewal Project”. Immediately visible was the brand new Entrance Hall, which featured a host of comfortable seats and tables. I was informed later that the hall can be used for meetings and breaks, and even light meals can be ordered. Definitely a service to the employees and visitors. Perhaps even more of a service was the Screening Room. Of course, I’m of the belief that the name currently used for the room does something of a disservice to the actual space: a giant screen with theater-type seats, 7.1 Digital Surround Sound and both Digital Projection as well as 35mm Cinema Projection. We watched a few brief trailers in the theater and let me tell you, the quality was fantastic. Even more exciting was that at the time I was told employees would have access to this area. I’m hopeful that this remains the case. Finally, one of the biggest selling points of this Renewal is a new floor for use by the Ritsumei-kan University, and Kyoto Prefecture. There are classrooms and workspace for film students, and it looks like it has the potential to really grow film as a medium in Japan amongst young people. If anything, I was jealous that the college I had attended in Japan didn’t have a connection with Shochiku Studios!

    Also worthy of mention is the Imagica West Studio located on the grounds. While I didn’t get to take a look, Imagica is a rather famous post-production company in Japan, and their presence in Shochiku is something to look out for. To be honest, while all of the above were quite spectacular, there was something even simpler that surprised me perhaps more than anything else: the people. I had the opportunity to meet dozens and dozens of people that day. What struck me the most however is how welcoming and relaxed everyone was. From the entry-level employees to the higher executives, everyone had a real smile, and was more than happy to engage in a conversation. I was a bit nervous prior to going if only because I expected a very business-like attitude, which is totally fair in my opinion. Instead I was greeted by some men and women in suits, willing to hang out and relax, proud of their latest achievement. If Shochiku is any indication, I think that other film studios should start looking to do a Renewal of their own.

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