A central area of Japan's Nagano Prefecture has raised its profile in recent years as a moviemaking hotspot, with major productions including the Oscar-winning "Godzilla Minus One" filming there and the local economy seeing tourism by movie lovers from Japan and overseas.

The Suwa area, comprising six municipalities on the shores of Lake Suwa and in the nearby mountains, has become popular not only for its scenic terrain, but also for its convenient proximity to Tokyo and its readiness to accommodate film projects.

Supplied photo shows a former government office building in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, where the movie "Godzilla Minus One" was filmed. (Kyodo)

A key scene in the latest Godzilla movie, which nabbed a U.S. Academy award earlier this month for best visual effects, was filmed in the region at a former government office building in Okaya. The film's director Takashi Yamazaki was drawn to the untouched, old-fashioned style of the location for the story set in the 1940s.

"I'm happy that people all over the world are watching a movie filmed in my hometown," said Mika Oguchi, 51, a local who appears in the film as an extra.

Other notable works filmed in the same area include "Kaibutsu" (Monster), awarded best screenplay at last year's Cannes International Film Festival, and "Hyakka" (A Hundred Flowers), for which Genki Kawamura became Japan's first winner of best director honors at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain in 2022.

With Lake Suwa in the background, Yosuke Miyasaka of the Suwaken Film Commission poses for a photo in December 2023 on the balcony of a former elementary school where the movie "Kaibutsu" (Monster) was filmed in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture.(Kyodo)  

Although the Suwa area has only recently become known as a staging ground for world-famous movies, its status came about through long-standing efforts to promote and facilitate filming in the area.

According to Yosuke Miyasaka, 45, of the Suwaken Film Commission, there were "no major film projects at all" for several years following the body's launch in 2006.

But by accepting any and all inquiries, and personally scouting locations to meet the requirements of every filmmaker, he helped to elevate the area's reputation. By the end of fiscal 2022, which ran through March last year, the film commission had attracted a total of over 100 productions.

The success has also prompted an increase in tourism as movie fans, including those from countries like South Korea and the United States, make pilgrimages to various sites in the region where popular films were shot. The local economy reaped at least 104 million yen ($700,000) in fiscal 2022 from such visits, according to an estimate by the commission.

Kazuo Terashima, head of tourism in the Suwa city government, welcomed the boost from internationally prominent films. "Being chosen as a filming location can help spread the word about the area's appeal," he said.

The growing popularity of the area among filmmakers, said Ruriko Sekine, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Japan Film Commission, owes in part to its location just a two-hour drive from the capital, though she also noted its natural beauty.

"Many producers are also impressed by the terrain, with mountain ranges seemingly on all sides of Lake Suwa," she said.

Yosuke Miyasaka of the Suwaken Film Commission poses for a photo in December 2023 inside a former elementary school where the movie "Kaibutsu" (Monster) was filmed in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture. (Kyodo)

Miyasaka of the local commission said, "I want to attract movies that will be handed down for generations, ensuring the Suwa area's place in history" as the filming location of masterpieces.

Related coverage:

Japan's latest Godzilla film wins Oscar for best visual effects

Anime giant Hayao Miyazaki wins 2nd Oscar, Godzilla visual effects winner

"Oppenheimer" wins best picture at U.S. Academy Awards