Japan’s first subsidy aimed at boosting foreign co-productions is worth up to $625,000 to overseas projects with Japanese financial and creative involvement

Industry organisation UniJapan and Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs have announced details of a co-production subsidy scheme.

The 2011 Agency for Cultural Affairs Co-production Subsidy is aimed at live action and animated feature films with a minimum total budget of $1.25m (Y100m). Qualifying projects will be eligible for a subsidy of up to 20% of production expenditure to a maximum of $625,000 (Y50m).

The Japanese government has earmarked $2.5m (Y200m) for the inaugural year of the programme, which is the first subsidy of its kind aimed at boosting foreign co-productions with Japan.

The two-step application requires a project’s Japanese producer to apply through UniJapan for a co-production certification. Certified projects are in turn eligible to apply to the Agency for Cultural Affairs for the financial subsidy. Qualifying projects must be completed between October 1 2011 and March 31 2012 to receive subsides once the finished film is screened.

A minimum of 20% of the project’s financing must come from Japan and a minimum of 5% from overseas. Projects must exhibit a sizable Japanese creative contribution and have a domestic and international distribution plan in place. Copyright must remain with or be shared with Japanese producers.

UniJapan has specified a certification application deadline of July 8. Certified projects will be able to apply for subsidies from August 8-12.

The new co-production scheme signals a major effort to enable international producers to access government money. Despite its visual and cultural value, Japan has not been an attractive location for larger shoots logistically or financially, with no major tax or cash incentives to shoot in the territory.

Additionally, Japan has only one official co-production treaty – with Canada. Other countries, including Australia, have failed to create co-production infrastructures with Japan.

There are some other signs of change. Last August the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) announced a scheme to offer limited financial and logistical support to selected foreign film and TV productions with Japanese settings in an effort to boost overseas visitors to the territory. However, tourism has plunged over 50% since the disaster on March 11, taking potential productions with it.