Photo/Illutration Yoko Yamanaka (Photo by Noriki Ishitobi)

One of the few remaining independent film distributors set up during the small-theater boom in Japan has received an award from La Renaissance Francaise, a prestigious French cultural organization.

Yoko Yamanaka was in her 20s when she founded Cetera International, an importer and distributor of foreign films, mainly European movies, in 1989. 

The Tokyo-based company not only celebrated its 34th anniversary this year, but Yamanaka in March was also given the Gold Medal for Francophone Values (Medaille d’Or des Valeurs Francophones) from La Renaissance Francaise, a public interest corporation.

The award recognizes those who have contributed to the development of the French culture and language in their country.

“Although I didn’t know the basics of corporate management, I established the company anyway because I wanted to show films with Gerard Philipe in theaters,” she said.

Philipe (1922-1959) was a handsome French actor from the 1940s and 1950s who remains popular in Japan and France.

“I think my company has continued to operate all these years because I had no intention to expand it,” Yamanaka said. “I have been using my own funds to show only films to which I can devote my attention.”

The distributor once hit a rough patch, but it rebounded after “Hannah Arendt” and “A Lady in Paris” found box-office success in 2013.

The latter failed to create much of a buzz even in France, but it became a hit only in Japan.

“Honestly, I thought it was uneventful,” she said. But my staff thought it was promising.”

Yamanaka had been running things her way, but she recently has increasingly allowed young staff members to have their say in decisions.

Cetera International’s latest hit movie is “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” a comedy series centering around a conservative French couple whose four daughters marry men from different races: an Arab, a Jew, a Chinese and an African.

Screening of the third installment of the series has started in Tokyo.