As production speeds have slowed down around the world, including in Japan, many broadcasters have been relying on reruns and acquisitions to fill the gaps in their schedules. “Apart from providing a slate of quality programs for our partners abroad, we saw an increasing need for accurate information concerning COVID-19,” says Fumina Koike, deputy manager for international program sales at NHK Enterprises.
In COVID-19: Fighting a Pandemic, for example, NHK’s science team conducted an experiment to depict how microdroplets—tiny particles less than 1/100 mm in diameter—spread, providing insight on further precautions. “The program was aired widely throughout the world, and the experiment image quickly went viral, [and was] also cited in scientific papers,” notes Koike.
COVID-19: Battle on the Cruise Ship is an in-depth investigation into what happened on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was one of the first large clusters Japan faced. “It reveals a microcosm of Japan’s battle against the virus and offers important clues for managing the crisis,” Koike adds.
NHK Enterprises has released two more science documentaries concerning the coronavirus at MIPCOM Online+, including Visualizing the Virus, which utilizes special photography, computer simulation and the latest research to show how infections happen and what measures we can take to avoid them.
“While the world struggles to adapt to the ‘new norm’—life with COVID-19—we feel that buyers are increasingly inclined to search for more uplifting programs to remind us that life is still not all bad,” says Koike. “Offering warmth, compassion and laughter to NHK’s audience has always been an important element for our programming, and we believe this has become more significant than ever.”
In the way of finished dramas, NHK Enterprises is offering the latest version of the popular morning drama serial Yell, which tells the life story of a young, talented composer who created numerous hits before, during and after the war. Another offering is Why She Can’t R.I.P., a bittersweet romantic comedy about two outsiders.
For factual entertainment, the company has three original titles that have proven popular for NHK’s audiences and are being released now as formats. Going into its fifth season on NHK and generating social media buzz with each episode, The Late Night Show with Nitty & Gritty celebrates the underground and little-known-but-rumored ways of life through a candid talk show using puppets. Another program that has already proven successful abroad (gaining nearly 300 million views on Tencent in China) is 72 Hours, a documentary that captures the real stories of ordinary people who come and go at a specific location during a three-day period. One of the most popular studio entertainment shows in Japan, Chiko’s Challenge is a co-viewing studio comedy show in which celebrities are challenged with child-like questions—innocent questions that are often surprisingly difficult to answer.
NHK has been a pioneer in 8K technology, and there are some new programs that showcase this cutting-edge work. The 80-minute drama Gift of Fire, a co-production with Eleven Arts, turned a fresh spotlight on Japan’s wartime attempt to build an atomic bomb 75 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Some of the world’s top creatives came together to work on it,” says Yuki Yoshida, senior producer of global content development at NHK. “For instance, the screenplay was workshopped at the Sundance Institute, and the music was composed by Nico Muhly.”
Wife of a Spy, which won the Venice Film Festival’s best director award, was shot entirely in 8K by Kurosawa Kiyoshi. The story is set in the Japanese city of Kobe in 1940, just before Japan was caught up in World War II. “The TV edition attracted attention when it got an earlier airing on the BS8K channel,” Yoshida says.
The documentary A-bomb Buildings—A Silent Witness features 12 buildings that were hit by radiation but maintained their structures, such as the World Heritage A-Bomb Dome. The use of 8K to showcase these buildings, alongside the interviews with survivors, helped to “convey the horror and the inhuman nature of nuclear weapons,” Yoshida explains. “The documentary is a valuable piece, as many of the survivors have passed away and the buildings themselves are being torn down due to high maintenance costs.”
In keeping an eye on innovation, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NHK have teamed up to jointly develop a Super Hi-Vision Camera that is capable of filming 4K and 8K images in space for JAXA’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission. “This would be the first time in history that 8K ultra-high-definition images of Mars and its moons are taken in proximity,” says Yoshida. “By combining the actual flight data of the MMX spacecraft and the images taken by the Super Hi-Vision Camera, the exploration of the MMX spacecraft around Mars and its moons (the Martian system), 300 million kilometers from the Earth, will be re-created. JAXA and NHK will work together to convey the appeal of a new horizon that has never been seen in detail before to many people in a vivid and inspiring way.”
See NHK Enterprises’ Fall 2020 Showcase here.