International Image of Japanese Film

Alan Kita alkita at
Tue Jan 5 14:46:09 EST 1999

No offense taken really...the real culprit has to lie with the domestic
film distributors themselves.  They have no vision of a film market; and
there are no democratic recourses to take - such as lawsuits.

I'm one that is usually not supportive of lawsuits and the ilk, however,
because of the possibility of one, it shapes the film industry and the
film market.

In the United States, for example, the copyright are what 60 years? plus
one renewal.  The Disney company owns the rights to the cartoon
character Mickey Mouse.  (Actually it's more complex and at one point
the rights probably had belonged to the Disney family.)  Mickey has been
around for more 60 years, so the copyright has either been renewed once
or that ownership had changed hands.

Winnie-the-Pooh is not a Disney character - it was created by A.A. Milne
and the artist...however, Disney's right to its version runs out
sometime in the year 2002 or 2003.

Lewis Carroll's family (he has no direct descendants) no longer has the
rights to the stories we know as Alice in Wonderland..

What happens, it all belongs in the public domain.  Which is one reason
we see many versions of Alice in Wonderland, and probably a motive for
Disney to push it's Pooh-wares now while it can still make exclusive

Dr. Seuss has left behind a large number of characters which he left to
his wife.  However, if she did not aggressively pursue creative
interests in the characters Suess created such as Cat-in-the-Hat, she
would eventually lose all rights to them.  So now we see much product,
both cinematically and merchandise.  If you don't exercise your right,
you lose them.

One other example, Chrysler (now Chrysler-Daimler) owns the trademark
name for JEEP.  But if they didn't aggressive pursue any "unauthorized"
use of the trademark, then JEEP could have become a generic word. 
Aspirin originally a trademark name but was not vigorously defended and
is now a regular word.

The American and European system of courts keep these things in check. 
You should see the haggling that goes on with the Gershwin foundation
for example which owns the rights to all Gershwin material.

IN JAPAN, although the copyrights have expired on many of the early
Japanese cinema, the film distributors have exercised their control over
these and literally have put the industry in handcuffs over the fear of
losing the films entirely.

it would be ideal if some group could sue the film companies over the
rights of films made in the 1920s and 1930s...however, other related
companies today are afraid to support such an endeavor because they will
feel the pressure from the film companies to distribute today's films.

The Japanese film distributors are literally choking on contemporary
films in order to "control" their entire library.  Which makes
presenting films difficult.  Both the Kawakita and the Japan Foundation
have their hands tied by the film distributors.  Should any of these two
groups sacrifice their future (to collect Japanese films) by presenting
a classic film from the past.  These groups and others spend much energy
to appease the film distributors just so they can get a comtemporary
film to a film festival.

Why do the film distributors do this?  It is hard to say, because so
little can be researched about it.  It is likely because of a perceived
market.  If you control all the Japanese films, then you can name your
price.  Oil companies are successful at it.  Maybe car companies too. 
The problem is..that there are alternatives to oil for energy, and even
alternatives to least the government can help with both.  But
film...there is no government alternative (other than imports) and the
film audience can simply learn to live it is now.

Although having more television channels does not necessarily make it
better quality, but in the long run, with more product that is needed
eventually quality will be found.  It took HBO many years before it can
succeed with quality original entertainment - look at the number of
awards its programs receive.  In fact the U.S. had done away with its
Cable TV awards.

Perhaps with Satellite TV, a higher demand for Japanese product may
result that the current film companies cannot fulfill.  There are many
Japanese directors getting their training and schooling in the U.S. 
Perhaps, one day we will import Japanese film into Japan from abroad. 
Of course, we will have to release the hold film distributors have on
film houses.....

stephen cremin wrote:
> I think the solution is information, which is a control issue.
> Outside of "Variety" and "The Japan Times", where do you read about
> these films?  If they don't feature a cute actress (preferably Saeki
> Hinako) or special effects, they won't be mentioned on the Internet
> Movie Database.  The National Film Centre of Japan, Kawakita Memorial
> Institute and The Japan Foundation (Tokyo) are far too secretive about
> the films in their collection which just adds to the centralisation of
> control among the few people who have access.  And access to
> information to Japanese film has to be democratised if there's to be a
> range of work shown internationally which goes some way to reflecting
> the breadth of Japanese cinema.  Despite the amount of animosity
> between certain international film specialists on Japanese cinema,
> what's interesting is that their taste is almost exactly the same.  At
> least the territorial infighting in Japan is between critics and
> programmers with a range of taste in Japanese film.  That range of
> taste won't appear internationally until access is opened up.  But I
> do believe there is a new generation of critics, festivals and
> distributors emerging, many of whom are members of the KineJapan
> mailing list.  And thank god so many of you are bilingual and not so
> damn territorial.
> Stephen Cremin
> PS:  I'm aware that some staff of the Japan Foundation subscribe to
> this list.  I do adore your organisation, particularly the London
> Office and ASEAN Centre, but please be more pro-active and not
> dependent on a handful of critics and programmers operating outside
> Japan who don't really know Japanese film as well as they'd like to
> pretend.  And please be aware of the critical/political games at play
> when you throw money at Rotterdam in 2000 for their Japanese film
> focus.

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