Just like the Real Thing! Open Sets Can Make On-screen Visuals Look More Realistic

An open set in Kyoto
Image courtesy of ©TOEI Kyoto Studio Park

   From scenes of samurai walking in historic dramas, to bizarre shots of modern-day Tokyo, most of the Japanese scenery that appears in films and TV shows is actually filmed on open sets. We're going to take a look at a few open sets that have contributed to on-screen realism.

Is That the Real Shibuya Crossing You're Looking At?

   Located in one of Tokyo's premier downtown areas, Shibuya Crossing is the world's busiest pedestrian intersection. It's a favorite spot for tourists to visit and take pictures and videos, and is featured in most visitor guides.
   The intersection has been the setting for various films and TV shows, and in recent years it has gained an international reputation as the quintessential Japanese cityscape, but extensive on-location filming is prohibited.

A photo of the actual crossing outside Shibuya Station

   In September 2019, a full-size open set replica of a famous crossing in central Tokyo was completed in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, and is currently used extensively for filming. The 1.5-hectare site is an elaborate reproduction of not just the roads themselves, but also the station ticket barriers and even the graffiti. The entire set is constructed in the same orientation as the real intersection, so that the position of the sun and moon and the direction of the shadows are more or less identical. The scenery as you see it in actual productions is created by taking the footage shot on the open set and using CG to make it more realistic — a technique used in countless productions in Japan and abroad.

Panoramic view of an open set. The scramble intersection is reproduced on the vast set. (Image courtesy of (C) ASHIKAGA SCRAMBLE CITY STUDIO)

Even the graffiti and ticket barriers at the station are reproduced exactly as they are in real life. (Image courtesy of (C) ASHIKAGA SCRAMBLE CITY STUDIO)

The image is completed by creating the background (the station building) with CG and superimposing it onto the footage. (Image courtesy of (C) GEEK PICTURES (C) VISUALMAN TOKYO)

Indispensable When Shooting Period Dramas! Open Sets Used by Film Companies That Continue to Evolve Today

   Open sets used to shoot films all used to be owned by film companies. While many of them no longer exist, some film companies still have permanent open sets. While they are mainly used for historical productions of a particular period or genre, it is now possible for each set to be used for a wider range of time periods by modifying parts of the structure.

An open set in the ancient city of Kyoto, set up by a film company inheriting the traditions of Japanese film. The main streets and bridges and their businesses form the heart of period dramas. (Image courtesy of SHOCHIKU STUDIO)

   There is a historic open set shooting location in Kyoto that has existed since 1926, and is still in use today. These days, it isn't just used to shoot films and TV shows, but for any and all film- and photography-related applications, such as commercials, music videos and stills, and tourists can even go and see the open set for themselves.

A scene with samurai and townspeople walking around, and a scene being shot.

A Stunning Open Set Using the Existing Magnificent Natural Landscape

   The Shonai Plain, located on the coast of the Sea of Japan in Yamagata Prefecture, is surrounded by mountains and known for its delicious rice and agricultural produce, and is home to a spectacularly large open set of about 88 hectares.
   It was originally a quarry, but since 2006 it has been used to shoot many films and TV shows. Once you go through the entrance you'll find the park is divided into six distinct areas, including a post station area, a rural village area, a fishing village area and a mountain village area.

Entrance: Located in the center of the park, this bustling area is also used for filming, such as with the construction of a watchtower.

Post station area: A magnificent 200-meter-long location with various inns and eateries, beyond which extends the sacred Mount Gassan. Films such as Rurouni Kenshin : Kyoto Inferno were filmed in this area.

Rural village area: The rice paddy is built for filming and is actually planted and harvested by hand.(Images all courtesy of STUDIO SEDIC)

   This open set, which reflects the changing of the seasons, has been used to film various popular titles. Between spring and autumn, it is also open to the general public.

   Much of the Japanese scenery seen on screen was filmed on open sets dotted around the country, providing a perfectly faithful reproduction of the genuine Japanese landscape. On these open sets, you can become a character in a film — you'll feel like you've traveled back in time to the days of the samurai.