Photo/IllutrationA scene from the production of “A.I. Love You” ((c) Yoshimoto Kogyo)

The image quality has improved so much on smartphone cameras that low-budget producers are shooting entire films with the handheld devices.

Many filmmakers are also cashing in on the device’s unique features, allowing them to freely film the characters moving through city streets.

“A.I. Love You,” a love story between a girl aspiring to be a pastry chef played by Aoi Morikawa and artificial intelligence in a smartphone, was shot in 4K with the iPhone 6s. The AI voice was provided by Takumi Saito.

Released on Dec. 10, the movie’s images are sharp, even on the big screen in a theater.

“It marked the first time for a film shot entirely with smartphones to be theatrically released in Japan,” director Shogo Miyaki said. “I shot it through trial and error, taking advantage of our low budget in a way.”

Typical lighting and sound equipment were used, but the production team could reduce costs and manpower by having the director use two smartphones, a lens that can change the screen size and an app to adjust the focus.

Shooting scenes on a smartphone is easy, especially if mobility is needed. Instead of using a crane, Miyaki mounted a smartphone on an adjustable stick to shoot scenes from high places.

“It was effective because I wanted the audience to see things from AI’s point of view,” the director said.

Morikawa added, “I could act in a natural and normal manner.”

“Tangerine,” a U.S. film shot entirely on the iPhone 5s, will open at cinemas in Japan later this month.

A story about friendship and romance, the film is set in Los Angeles and centers around a transgender prostitute.

It created a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 with its immersive imagery that makes viewers feel like they are moving around the town with the characters.

Director Sean Baker said his first-time actors did not appear apprehensive about performing in front of a smartphone. He said he expected an increase in the number of films shot with smartphones, given the technological advances and reduced production costs.

In the recent monster film “Shin Godzilla,” some scenes were shot with smartphones.

“Although there are differences such as the depth of imagery for dark places as well as ambience, the boundary is blurring thanks to the image quality that has also improved drastically,” image critic Yutaka Watanabe said. “Because anyone can use (smartphones), what sets a film by a professional filmmaker apart from one by a nonprofessional will be questioned more seriously than before.”