A planning group that includes David Fincher and John Woo has compiled a report calling for the construction of a studio complex in the Tokyo Bay area by 2008.
Called Studio City Tokyo, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the complex in the Harumi District will include 32 studios for TV and film production and post-production, equipped with the latest digital editing and CG hardware. The estimated construction cost of $1bn (Y120bn) will be shared by a consortium of as-yet-unnamed partners in the media and electronics industries.
The chairman of the 14-man planning group is Masaru Takahashi, a veteran TV director, while the general producer is Shinya Izumi, professor emertius of the Keio University Business School. The Nomura Research Institute is serving the group as consultant, while Hollywood advisors include James Hindman, chief operating officer of the American Film Institute, as well as directors David Fincher and John Woo.
The biggest studio in the complex will be 4,000 square meters, compared with the largest in Japan, a 1,700 square meter studio that Toho is currently building.
In addition to production, Studio City Tokyo will include facilities for training a new generation of filmmakers. The curriculum will be developed in co-operation with the University of Southern California.
Given the anaemic states of both the Japanese economy and the Japanese film industry, with production at the three major studios stagnant and profits elusive for all but the biggest hits, it seems a strange time for such an ambitious plan. Only three years ago Shochiku closed its Ofuna studio, the company's oldest and largest.
Japanese electronics companies, however, are world leaders in digital production and post-production technology. An advanced studio facility in Tokyo would give the local industry an advantage over Hollywood and Asian rivals. Such facilities are already being built in Korea and China - and the Japanese are loath to fall behind.
The problem is who is going to pay for it. The Japanese film industry alone is too weak to bear such a burden, while the TV networks, though earning vastly larger revenues, are saddled with money-bleeding satellite operations and have been spending huge sums for the transition to digital broadcasting, scheduled to start this year.
The government has expressed interest in supporting the film business, but whether it intends to participate in the Studio City Tokyo project remains unclear. The team is expected to shed light on these and other matters when it releases its official report on January 28.