Titanic, etc.E@(E & J)
schill at gol.com
Mon Jan 4 03:26:45 EST 1999
>From: Mark Schilling <schill at gol.com)
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Subject: Re: Titanic, etc.E@(E & J)
> Date: Monday, January 04, 1999
Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano said that I provided "information on budget
differences between the Hollywood film industry and the Japanese film
industry to indicate why Japanese films cannot compete with Hollywood
films." Actually my intent was to illutrate why respondents to the Yomiuri
survey who knocked Japanese films for being "small scale" -- i.e., for not
matching up to the big-budget Hollywood competition -- were being
unrealistic. The markets are simply too different for Japanese producers to
pony up $50 million for a Hollywood-size epic unless they plan to recoup
internationally -- a mistake in most cases.
Also, despite Ms. Wada-Marciano's assertion, not all cinemas outside
Hollywood have had as hard a time competing with Hollywood head-to-head as
Japan's. Both the Brits and the French have had notable successes in the
international marketplace in recent years (though perhaps instead of
"French" I ought to say "Luc Besson"). In addition, India's film industry
has proven resilient in coping with the Hollywood threat (admittedly with
the aid of restrictive import policies), though it has been far less
successful in selling its products abroad.
I devote an entire chapter in my upcoming book on Japanese cinema in the
nineties to the coping mechanisms Ms. Wada-Marciano inquires about. I'd
rather not go into detail here -- enough to say that the main ones have
been the block booking system, advance ticket sales, mainly to corporate
sponsors, and reliance on tried-and-true genres and formulas, from monster
movies to samurai swashbucklers. As Donald Richie once told me, Japanese
producers are forever trying to remake the big film of 1958 -- the year
that the industry hit its high water mark.
As for changes in the post-bubble era, the popularity of the big-budget
maeuriken costume drama has waned with the decline of corporate support and
audience interest. A film like "Pride" has become the exception rather than
the rule. Interestingly, though, several producers have jidai geki in the
works for the end of the millenium, including Kazuyoshi Okuyama with
Also, though Godzilla and other monster franchises help fill peak period
schedules, the genre most resistent to the Hollywood onslaught has been and
will no doubt continue to be animation. Studio Ghibli's record against the
Disney competition in Japan, including the drubbing of "Hercules" by
"Mononoke Hime," is enough to prove this point, though there are many other
examples. I will be curious to see, however, whether the Japanese can
become equally strong in digital animation -- an area in which Hollywood
has a substantial lead.
In the immediate future, the domestic genre most likely to succeed is
psycho horror. The success of "Ring" and "Rasen" last year has inspired a
spate of successors, including the upcoming "Ring 2" and "Shikoku," both
based on Kadokawa Shoten bestsellers. The films are relatively cheap to
make, attract the core under-25 audience and even have export potential.
Also, though certainly influenced by Hollywood models, "Ring" and "Rasen"
evidenced a uniquely Japanese take on the supernatural and the macabre
I certainly do not think that Japanese studios will follow Hollywood in
what Ms. Wada-Marciano describes as the "cannibalizing of local independent
films." The failures of Toho's YES and Shochiku's Cinema Japaneque projects
have temporarily scotched attempts to launch local models of Miramax by the
Big Three. Also, the conservative types who run these companies show little
inclination to make much room in their own line-ups for anything that
resembles indie cinema. In other words, Godzilla forever.
I've gassed on long enough -- time to let other list members have a shy at
this topic -- or at me, if they so desire!
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