Japan’s profile as a shooting location in East Asia has been coloured by the perceived high costs and
lack of financial incentives, as well as its reputation as a country where it can be difficult to close off
and control locations in the major cities. However, costs in Japan have remained flat over the past
decade, while some other Asian territories, in particular mainland China, have experienced inflation.

It may not be the cheapest territory to shoot in Asia, but Japan is a clean, efficient, first-world
country with solid infrastructure and is no more expensive than London, Los Angeles or New York.
Furthermore, the Japanese government is working to improve the country’s image as a shooting
location, announcing a pilot programme for a production incentive in May.

However, space limitations are real — houses are small, streets are narrow — and it can be difficult
to close off roads, which means Japan is not geared up to host huge Hollywood productions in their
entirety. But the country has a distinctive look, ranging from neon-soaked cityscapes to ancient
temples and snow-capped mountains, and is slowly gaining the confidence of international

Two types of productions are touching down in Japan — Hollywood films such as The Wolverine and
Avengers: Endgame that shoot for a few weeks in the country as part of a global schedule — and
independent films and high-end TV series that are set in Japan or need the country’s combination of
ancient and modern.

Recent productions in the latter category include feature film Earthquake Bird, a co-production
between Scott Free Productions and Japan’s Twenty First City (TFC), which Netflix has acquired for
worldwide distribution, and cop drama TV series Giri/Haji, a co-production between Netflix and the
BBC. Japan also attracts a steady flow of shoots from other Asian countries, such as John Woo’s
Chinese-language Manhunt, produced by Hong Kong’s Media Asia.

Directed by Wash Westmoreland, Earthquake Bird was entirely filmed in Japan, mostly in Tokyo and
Sado Island. Alicia Vikander stars as a young expat who is suspected of murder after her friend goes
missing in the wake of a love triangle. TFC, the Tokyo-based co-producer of the film, is also one of
Japan’s leading production services companies and worked on Giri/Haji, which filmed in Tokyo and

Japan lends itself to nimble, international productions with a light footprint. About three or four
years ago, some high-end US TV series started coming to Japan. HBO’s Girls and Amazon’s Mozart In
The Jungle, and people started to realise that it’s not that difficult to make it work. At the same time,
Japan has been trying to increase its profile by establishing film commissions and providing local
support to attract filmmakers.

Tokyo-based Japan Film Commission provides access to a network of more than 120 regional and
municipal film commissions spanning the country, from Sapporo Film Commission in the
mountainous north to Okinawa Film Office in the islands of the south. Tokyo Location Box provides
advice on locations and permits on behalf of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Due to its long-established and thriving local film and TV industries, Japan has a wealth of talent, but
still has a shortage of English-speaking crews. With extraordinary talent, especially in terms of
production designers and wardrobe, this helps gives assurance that if your film is set in Japan, you
should bring in as few people as possible, which is inevitably more cost effective. Japan’s main
soundstages are in or around Tokyo and Kyoto, and are mostly operated by local studios such as

Toho, Toei and Shochiku. They are not large by international standards and are usually busy with
local productions.

Japan is an archipelago of thousands of islands, stretching for 3,000 kilometres, although the four
largest islands; Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu make up 97% of its land mass. In addition to
around 180 airports, Japan has a vast and efficient road and rail network, including high-speed
‘shinkansen’ bullet trains. From Tokyo, the bullet train takes about two and a half hours to reach
Japan’s third-largest city Osaka and five hours to reach Fukuoka in the south.