Tartan closed for business + UK and US DVD Releases

Michael McCaskey mccaskem at georgetown.edu
Sun Jun 29 12:16:01 EDT 2008

Dear Jasper,

Thank you very much indeed for the information on Third Window Films! I looked their site up, and they really do have some very good Japanese and Korean films. In the US, VIZ, which puts out a large volume of manga translated into English, and I think is tied in with Kodansha, has started releasing/distributing Japanese films along the same lines, including Kamikaze Girls and The Taste of Tea, finally, but so far Memories of Matsuko is not on their list.

I had a European DVD of Taste of Tea several years ago which I've misplaced somewhere
-- I thought it was from the UK, but I'm not sure. In the US there's often a very long wait for good Japanese films to be released on DVD, and sometimes it never happens at all. Sometimes DVDs of some of them can be gotten from SE Asia that run on US equipment that I can use in my classes. Memories of Matsuko is one, both the movie and the dorama versions, but many others remain in distribution limbo outside Japan.

There's a maybe not-so-great but very interesting film directed by Sono Shion set in New York, starring Joe Odagiri, "Hazard" (2002), that would be good to have in the form of a UK or US DVD, that so far has no English subtitles. There is a German DVD of it already:


But even the actual web site for this film in Japan is gone, and there's one of those cheesy "mousetrap" sites there instead now. Maybe it's on some other Sion Sono site now.

I did recently get what I think is a new Sion Sono double DVD release package from Japan, containing Hazard, with lots of "making of" and other special features, a full commentary track, and Japanese subtitles when English is spoken. The other film is Noriko's Dinner Table (2005), which has recently come out in US DVD form, though I'm not sure whether there's a UK DVD of it as yet. "Noriko" also has a full commentary track, but I don't know whether the US DVD has one or not.

Michael McCaskey

I follow Slavoj Zizek re the economy as well as re film, and I'm pretty sure he'd agree with you on economic prospects. But the value of the British pound continues to rise against the US dollar, so perhaps those who are in the UK are doing a bit better, relatively.

----- Original Message -----
From: Sharp Jasper <jasper_sharp at hotmail.com>
Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008 10:42 am
Subject: RE: Tartan closed for business

> There might be several reasons for the decline of Tartan. Here's a 
> few ideas that I've been bouncing around.
> Firstly, Tartan have always been involved in the edgier side of 
> the market, distributing the films of Gaspar Noe, Michel Haneke, 
> Catherine Breillat, Carlos Reygadas etc. While I have to praise 
> their bravado for this, the fact is that this type of film is not 
> popular with the general public. Sadly, the type of cinemas that 
> one might have once labelled as "arthouse" are now owned by chains 
> such as Picture House in the UK, whose idea of alternative cinema 
> is stuff like Little Miss Sunshine or There Will Be Blood. 
> Consequently, for the past 5 years at least, companies such as 
> Tartan have had a great deal of trouble getting their films onto 
> screens, when there's only venues like the Edinburgh Filmhouse, 
> the Sheffield Showroom and the Bristol Watershed that would book 
> them. Look at the pitiful state of London's cinema scene for 
> example, where in the past ten years we've seen the closures of 
> the Lumiere, the Metro (latterly The Other Cinema), and the Lux, 
> to name but three; the ABC chain taken over by Virgin and the 
> ICA's programming barely worth a look at in recent years. Tartan 
> were lucky with Audition, Ring and Battle Royale, which managed to 
> get widespread theatrical distribution, but lets remember, this 
> was way over 5 years ago.
> The other thing is periods of high economic growth are not 
> particularly good for the arts. Rising building rentals squeezed 
> the margins of exhibitors and distributors alike, ticket prices 
> went up, and so only the bigger multiplexes were in a steady 
> financial position. As for the DVD market, in the UK its mandatory 
> to submit all films to the BBFC, who charge to certify the films, 
> and a considerable amount too when you consider how many units you 
> can shift for specialist markets like Asian cinema. Companies like 
> Artsmagic and Tartan started up their US labels simply because 
> they were losing money on UK only releases, and unfortunately the 
> economic situation in America has had a severe knock on effect 
> over here. (Freelancers are usually quite good at spotting looming 
> recessions, when their invoices start getting paid later and 
> later... Whatever Gordon Brown says, the UK is clearly only one 
> step away from recession).
> But for me the biggest problem I had with Tartan was this whole 
> "Asian Extreme" thing. Now, I should point out that the company 
> did also release all the Ozu movies in the UK, and wasnt entirely 
> fixated on horror. However, distributors should remember that 
> booms in anything are generally shortlived. Audition, Battle 
> Royale, Old Boy etc caught the publics imagination because we 
> hadnt seen anything like it before. When it comes 5 years later 
> and you're still trying to capitalise on their success with crappy 
> Malaysian ghost films, its no wonder you'll lose your audience, 
> especially if you're selling the disks at 15 pounds a pop - the 
> price of a night in the pub, for something you'll probably only 
> watch once. 
> Tartan could have been building a sustainable market for Asian 
> films if they actually strayed away from the pure genre stuff. But 
> I really have my doubts about distributors. I invited people from 
> Tartan and a few other companies to Raindance last year to come 
> and see Ryuichi Hiroki's Its Only Talk. They'd never even heard 
> ofHiroki, despite the buzz that has been building around him over 
> the past 5 years, and of course, they didnt come. The screening 
> was pretty full and everyone was asking afterwards how they could 
> get to see the film again. Ditto for Strawberry Shortcakes on the 
> recent Japan Foundation tour - a film whose international sales 
> agents Uplink would surely have given a better deal than Battle 
> Royale's Toei or Ring's Asmik Ace.
> I keep saying this till I'm blue in the face, but distributors of 
> Asian film over the past 5 years are so myopic its a wonder any of 
> them are still in business. Aside from effectively killing any new 
> interest in the market by constantly releasing the same blood guts 
> ghosts and gangster films instead of some of the great comedies 
> and dramas that have been coming out over the past 5 years, they 
> never seem to actually have an eye out for any new interesting 
> trends any more. I don't understand it - in the 90s distributors 
> were putting out stuff like Hirokazu Koreeda, Takeshi Kitano and 
> Wong Kar Wai. These are hardly commerical directors, but they 
> found their market. 
> All is not lost of course. A former Tartan employee left the 
> company a year or so ago and founded Third Window Films, because 
> he saw how much good Asian films were slipping by and not getting 
> picked up by Tartan. A lot of the releases, mainly of Korean 
> films, still fall into the "cult" category, but its great to see 
> Memories of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls also on his roster, films 
> which are indicative of wider trends in the Japanese industry at 
> the moment and which surely have a potential audience abroad. I 
> only hope he's successful and doesnt follow the Tartan model of 
> putting all his eggs in one basket.
> Midnight Eyewww.midnighteye.com
> ----------------------------------------
> > Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2008 09:11:51 -0400
> > From: mccaskem at georgetown.edu
> > To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> > Subject: Re: Tartan closed for business
> > 
> > This is disheartening news. I looked up Hamish McAlpine, and he 
> seems to have been involved in producing a lot of (often awful) 
> pictures outside of Tartan, including The Ted Bundy Story (2002). 
> Most recently he produced Funny Games (2007), which I think is a 
> Warner picture. Were such other ventures possibly a factor in the 
> decline of the fortunes of Tartan?
> > 
> > Michael McCaskey
> > 
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Sharp Jasper <jasper_sharp at hotmail.com>
> > Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008 6:53 am
> > Subject: Tartan closed for business
> > 
> > > 
> > > 
> > > 
> > > This might not come as a surprise to some list members, but 
> sad 
> > > news nonetheless, given how Tartan were one of the most active 
> > > companies distributing Japanese films in Britain over the past 
> ten 
> > > years, responsible for among other things, the releases of 
> Battle 
> > > Royale and Ring.
> > > 
> > > Jasper Sharp
> > > 
> > > Tartan closed for business
> > > 
> > > McAlpine breaks news to London staff
> > > 
> > > 
> > > LONDON - U.K. distrib Tartan Films has finally shuttered.
> > > 
> > > Sources told Variety that Tartan employees found the London 
> office 
> > > doors closed Thursday June 26 and were then informed later in 
> the 
> > > day by Tartan topper Hamish McAlpine the company was closed 
> for 
> > > business. 
> > > Speculation over the future of Tartan has been rife for 
> several 
> > > months.The distrib was believed to be in takeover talks with 
> David 
> > > Bergstein of
> > > the Capco Group, the firm that owns ThinkFilm, a stake in I.M. 
> > > Global as
> > > well as the U.K.'s Capitol Film and has itself been plagued by 
> > > rumors of
> > > financial troubles, for much of last year before negotiations 
> > > broke down
> > > following disagreements over Tartan's financial worth.
> > > Last October Tartan announced it had received a cash injection 
> of £3
> > > million ($6.2 million) in the form of a convertible loan from 
> a 
> > > privateinvestor and also had restructured its Brit operation, 
> with 
> > > managingdirector Laura De Casto ankling. The company's 
> theatrical 
> > > and home
> > > entertainment departments, previously run out of separate 
> London 
> > > offices, were also merged into one entity based at Tartan's 
> head 
> > > office.Tartan USA, the company's U.S. arm, announced at this 
> > > year's Cannes that it was being foreclosed. Film print and 
> > > advertising financing company Palisades Media Corp. has since 
> > > bought the U.S. rights to its library.
> > > Those moves now appear to have only offered temporary respite 
> from 
> > > a downward turn of fortune for McAlpine, who founded Tartan in 
> > > 1982. The 
> > > company subsequently expanded by launching sub-labels such as 
> > > Tartan 
> > > Terror and Tartan Asia Extreme. Distrib arguably became the 
> home 
> > > for genre fare and edgy, foreign-language pics, especially 
> from 
> > > Asia. No official comment has been made yet by Tartan execs as 
> to 
> > > what the
> > > future holds for the company although it seems likely that a 
> team of
> > > liquidators and accountants will be brought in to assess the 
> company's> > assets and sell them off.
> > > 
> > > 
> > > 
> > > 
> > > 
> > > Midnight Eye
> > > www.midnighteye.com
> > > 
> > > _________________________________________________________________
> > > ?MSN????????????????????? ?????????????
> > > http://video.msn.co.jp/rvr/default.htm
> > 
> _________________________________________________________________
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