Japan may be Asia's largest box office territory, and currently one ofthe region's most active producers, but it's still only a peripheral player inthe developing pan-Asian market, according to speakers at a TIFFCOM seminar onTuesday.

Reliance on a huge domesticmarket, language barriers, cultural differences and historical antipathies haveall contributed to the Japanese film industry's isolation, local producer SatoruIseki told delegates at the seminar about 'the rise of Asia in the global filmmarket'.

"Japan is lagging about a decade behind other Asiancountries [in terms of pan-Asian collaboration] and remains isolated," Isekisaid.

"At the opening of thisfestival, our prime minister Abe mentioned that Japan should be a gateway to Asian countries. But it's nota gateway yet. It takes time to catch up but we need to strive for that."

Iseki is one of the fewproducers in Japan who regularly works with other Asian territories. He recentlyco-produced Jacob Cheung's Battle Of Wits- an adaptation of a Japanese manga about China's warlord period - with partners from Hong Kong, China and Korea. The film opens in Asia next month and will play on around 350 Japanese screens from January.

The project is unusual inthat it was developed jointly by Iseki and Hong Kong director Cheung making it a collaborative effort from the early stages.In most cases, Japanese companies will pre-buy or put equity into films, inorder to secure local distribution rights and perhaps share in global revenues,but play a passive role as investor rather than co-production partner.

Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi, who produced Wellson Chin's The Era Of Vampires with Iseki, outlinedthe current plight of the Hong Kong film industry and itsgrowing role as an intermediary between the major Asian markets of China, Korea and Japan.

Once the most prolificproducer in Asia outside Bollywood, Hong Kong is only expected to turn out 51 films this year. But due to its experiencein the international market, and access to the China market through the CEPA trade agreement, theterritory is playing a pivotal role in pan-Asian co-production anddistribution.

"There are lots of peoplewith money in China who are willing to invest in films - but money is all they have," Shitold delegates. "They lack the experience and know-how that the Hong Kong industry has."

Both Shi and Iseki describedChina as the future engine of the Asian market - due toits growing box office, the emergence of private production and distributioncompanies and investment in new cinema chains.

But the third speaker on thepanel, Pandemonium Films founder Bill Mechanic, said that advances intechnology would turn the entertainment industry on its head before China hadthe chance to become a major box office player - at least from the Hollywoodstudios' point-of-view. "Technology is the next step that will enable everyoneunder the age of 40 to change the world," Mechanic said.

The former Fox FilmedEntertainment chairman also said he believed it would be possible to build a pan-Asiandistribution mechanism, but there are many pitfalls in attempting to produce ona regional basis, and pointed to the ill-fated Euro puddings of the past decadeas a cautionary tale: "What works is movies with a point-of-view - homogenisationdoesn't work. But pan-Asian distribution - that could work."

The seminar was held as partof the three-day TIFFCOM market (Oct 23-25), which is running parallel to theTokyo International Film Festival this week. Around 150 companies areexhibiting at the market on the 40th floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Tokyo's Roppongi district.

TIFFCOM also encompassesco-production market Tokyo Project Gathering (TPG) and the one-day LocationMarket which is being held today.