The Disney Tokuma Deal
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1). Interview, Mr. Yasuyoshi Tokuma - Disney Alliance
Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun (Nikkei Industry Newspaper), Date Unknown (probably August 30, 1996)
-We've heard that this alliance was first brought by Disney side.
"The only competition which Disney, who has an overwhelming competitive power, couldn't beat was anime produced at Ghibli, which is led by Miyazaki Kantoku (director). If we compare the box office revenues of films which were released around the same time, while Disney's 'Beauty and Beast' earned 1.6 billion Yen, 'Porco Rosso' earned 2.7 billion Yen. As well, while 'Lion King' earned 2 billion Yen, 'Pon Poko' earned 2.6 billion Yen, and 'Pochahontus' earned .7 billion Yen, 'Mimi' earned 1.8 billion Yen.
"Disney has absolute confidence in its own anime, and it doesn't let other competitive works or companies who make them alone. If Disney thinks it can't beat them in competition, it buys them, and if that's not possible, it tries to form alliances."
-Some say Disney's aim is to acquire the video distribution rights of Miyazaki anime in Japan, and they aren't really care about international distribution.
"Hollywood are interested in Miyazaki anime, more than we imagine. Time-Warner also once contacted us. The reason why Miyazaki anime haven't been distributed globally so far is, because we valued Miyazaki Kantoku's feeling of not wanting to cut even one minute out of his films.
"'Mononoke Hime' will be the first film to be distributed globally, and it costs 2 billion Yen to produce, so we can't break even unless we aim foreign markets from the beginning. Not just Miyazaki anime, but we also distribute 'Shall We Dance?' and 'Gamera 2' internationally, and we were able to get good terms from Disney"
-When did you first meet Mr. Michael Ovitz, the president of Disney?
"Kevin Costner introduced him to me. When he was an unknown musician, we hired him for a commercial, and Kevin introduced him to me 13 years ago, saying he was his boss. At that time, Mr. Ovitz was the president of CAA, the talent agent, and he was really sharp. We immediately got along with.
"And then, he joined Disney, and when he visited Japan in April, he suddenly came to Tokuma to see me, and the talk of this alliance was brought up. After that, from the end of April to the end of May, I went to the Disney Headquarters in L.A., and concluded the negotiation."
-Is acquiring the contents such as anime the only aim of Disney?
"Right now, there are three groups which can have media operation in global scale. Time-Warner, News Corporation led by Mr. Mardock, and Disney. They think one of the cores for their media operation is news. That's why Disney bought Capital Cities/ABC. And the other core is family entertainment. Anime is an important element of it.
"Disney's international strategy of course has Asia, especially China in its view. When he came to Japan, Mr. Ovitz was saying that he was going to visit China to meet Chairman Jiang Zemin. He is very knowledgeable about China, and a researcher of Feng Shui. I think Disney is now going to form its China strategy, with Japan as a base."
(Translated without permission, by Ryoko Toyama)
2). Mr. Yasuyoshi Tokuma interveiw (excerpts)
Yomiuri Shimbun, August 3, 1996
"It is certain that the ideas in Japanese anime making or the potentials in merchandising now attracts interests from overseas. I'm even thinking about making Disney-Ghibli Anime Channel, when the era of digital multi-channel broadcasting by satellite comes."
-What will be the first film to be distributed by Disney?
"First, 'Shall We Dance?' directed by Masayuki Suo will be distributed in the US and Europe next year. After that, 'Gamera 2', the old Ghibli anime such as 'Totoro', and 'Mononoke Hime' will be released. Eventually, we will cooperate in such fields as magazines, CDs, and game soft."
-Are you planning to co-produce anime film in the future?
"Miyazaki San is an artist, who values his independence to make their own movie by themselves, and makes it as a basic stance of Studio Ghibli. In that sense, I think joint production is difficult for now."
(Translated without permission, by Ryoko Toyama)
3). The New York Times
January 5, 1997, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
BLACKBOARD: THE REEL WORLD; A Campus Cartoon Trend Moves On
By ANDREA KANNAPELL
For a decade or so, anime -- a high-quality, sci-fi Japanese cartoon film -- has been a college phenomenon, with computer clubs spinning off or turning into Japanimation fan clubs and increasingly Net-savvy students putting up Web sites and sharing still shots from videos.
It's a fair bet the collegiate visionaries are about to get a lot of company. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the distribution arm of Disney, recently acquired a library of Japanimation created by a man often hailed as "the Walt Disney of Japan," Hiyao Miyazaki.
Eight already completed Miyazaki films will head into the home-video market, and one currently in production, "Minonoke Hime (Monster Princess)," will get a theatrical release this summer. And once that happens, could films with a grittier take, like Mamoru Oshii's "Ghost in the Shell," be far behind?
Disney's move is a logical step because of the growing fandom heavily populated by primarily college-age Americans, who grew up on Japanimation in their Saturday morning cartoons, like "Gigantor," "Speed Racer" and "Voltran." In the 80's, students picked up bootleg, unsubtitled videos at comic-book conventions and hustled them back to the dorm for pop and pretzel parties. "It's a big nerd thing," said B.J. Johnson, a recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art. "I'm not going to deny it."
The first foreshadowing of popular success came with the founding in 1988 of Streamline Pictures, a California company that brought anime (pronounced ah-nih-may) films for theatrical release to college and art-house theaters. In 1990, it scored a hit with "Akira," now regarded as a classic of the genre. Mr. Johnson saw it at the Cinematheque at the art institute because the director there, John Ewing, was one of growing number of curators who started programming Japanimation weekends. "We seat 616," Mr. Ewing said, "and the second time we showed 'Akira,' we came as close as we ever have to selling out."
4). Reuters World Service
April 1, 1997, Tuesday, BC cycle
FEATURE - Disney turns to Japanese cartoonist for new look
By Nao Nakanishi
Giant sci-fi beetles, bare-bottomed heroines on gliders, and a pigman aviator are not exactly classic Disney cartoon material.
Yet Walt Disney is bankrolling the global release of the next cartoon from Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese director from whose fertile imagination the images sprang. Miyazaki has as quirky a view of his new employer as some of his characters.
"They are boring," Miyazaki said of his Disney partner's films at an interview at his studio in suburban Tokyo.
"Though I have friends there and they seem to like my work," he adds.
Miyazaki believes that Disney films have lost the dignity they once had and do not address broad human issues any more.
"I despise films made purely for entertainment. It is not enough to make people laugh," Miyazaki said. "Like other arts ... film should give a glimpse into the world's secrets."
Miyazaki's last two films were smash hits in Japan.
Cinema industry figures show that domestic distribution income from "Porco Rosso" and "Whisper of the Heart," surpassed that of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" and "Pocahontas." His new cartoon film, "The Princess Mononoke," is the first from Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli to be distributed globally by Walt Disney since the two struck a cooperation deal last year.
Around 100 artists are working to complete about 125,000 pictures for "The Princess Mononoke" which is planned for release in July.
Miyazaki said the film might be his last.
He has staked everything, including the future of himself and the studio, on the two-billion yen ($16 million) film he has been working on for more than 15 years.
"I wouldn't mind too much if I cannot make films any more. I've lived long enough. I would love to retire," said the 56-year-old director.
Studio Ghibli's films, at least technically, have the air of the early Walt Disney at his most detailed and inventive.
In a Miyazaki cartoon, the eye is captured not only by the main action, which is often the only moving part of a standard cartoon, but also by a group of subplot actions and events in a precise three-dimensional space around it.
Miyazaki and his colleague Isao Takabatake have captured a strong following by attention to detail, colour, and movement in space.
One recurrent theme in a Miyazaki cartoon is aviation in the 1920s and 1930s, which provides plenty of opportunity to display those traits. "Porco Rosso," featuring an aviator with a human body and the head of a pig, is essentially a violent aerial ballet in cartoon.
"In those days, planes often crashed and people were killed. I like men and women who give up living an ordinary life on earth and vanish in the air," said Miyazaki.
Asked if he made films differently since the cooperation with Walt Disney, Miyazaki said: "No. We can make films only our way. We live in Japan and we see things from here."
He said the U.S. film giant had also accepted his way of making films and did not regard Studio Ghibli as its subcontractor.
"Disney has grasped that the Japanese market is different. They now think there might be some other markets that like films made for a Japanese audience," he said.
Japanese animation, which generally favours dark and violent worlds as a theme, has already made an international impact.
Films such as the post-nuclear fantasy "Akira" have global cult followings.
Miyazaki's themes, in comparison, are gentler.
The new film is about the environmental and spiritual impact of human encroachment on nature.
"'The Princess Mononoke' is our attempt to confront the largest problem of our time," Miyazaki said.
And if he can make another film, Miyazaki wants it to be about worms: tiny worms, ugly worms, poisonous worms which fight for their existence in a world full of exhausts.
"It would be wonderful if children didn't kill bugs after seeing the film," he said.
5). The Hollywood Reporter
April 8, 1997
Disney offers Japan ani vids for sell-through
By Wayne Karrfalt The Hollywood Reporter TOKYO _
Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Disney's home video arm, is set to release the first animated videos by Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's most successful animation director.
Three titles are ready for sell-through in the Japanese market and two others are being prepared for a fall release in the United States.
Disney inked a deal last year with Ghibli's parent company, Tokuma Shoten Publishing, to distribute eight of Miyazaki's features worldwide. The agreement also included international rights for the recent Tokuma -owned Daei hit, ''Shall We Dance,'' which Miramax is releasing in the United States in June. The Disney specialized film arm is also considering it for an English-language remake.
BVHE will bow ''My Neighbor Totoro'' in June, ''Whisper of the Heart'' in July, and ''Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'' in the fall in Japan, and ''Kiki's Delivery Service'' and ''Laputa, Castle in the Sky'' in the United States sometime before the end of the year.
Although Miyazaki's animated films have never been released for the sell-through market here, the 56-year old director is a proven commodity in Japan, with five of his last six features being the No. 1 domestic theatrical earner of that year. Distribution income from ''Whisper of the Heart'' in 1995 exceeded that of Disney's ''Beauty and the Beast'' and ''Pocahontas.''
BVHE faces a steeper challenge in the United States, where Miyazaki is virtually unknown. Fox released ''My Neighbor Totoro'' in 1993, and sold between 650,000 and 800,000 units, numbers Disney hopes to vastly exceed.
''We're going to do a lot of guerrilla marketing on this one,'' BVHE president Michael Johnson said. ''We're going to make an event of the release. But it's going to be a new experience for us _ this doesn't follow our usual pattern.''
Disney is also preparing for the first international theatrical release of a Studio Ghibli film, targeting Miyazaki's newest ''The Princess Mononoke'' for the United States, France, England and Spain after its planned July release in Japan.
6). The Guardian
April 14, 1997
ARTS: MANGA GOES TO HOLLYWOOD;
Once upon a time American film directors drew inspiration from Marvel, DC Thomson and 2000AD. Now they're turning to the doe-eyed, shoulder-padded heroes and heroines of Japanese comic books. David Hughes and Jonathan Clements report
BYLINE: David Hughes And Jonathan Clements
It would appear to be just another action film, unleashed upon a weary and overcrowded market. Yet Crying Freeman, the story of an undercover assassin's attempt to free himself from his Chinese mafia masters, may herald a new trend in American cinema. What separates it from other films of its ilk is that it is based on a Japanese manga comic, and it was made by westerners.
Hollywood has long plundered comic books for source material - Superman, Batman, Judge Dredd, Tank Girl, the forthcoming Spiderman, to name a few. The simple, heroic plotlines and easily identifiable characters slip well into the action movie genre and provide lucrative franchising and merchandising opportunities. Yet as the well-spring of western comics dries up, Hollywood action movies have become more technological, more darkly humorous, more violent - in short, more Japanese. And many directors are now turning to manga as a near-untapped source of ready -storyboarded scripts.
There are a number of manga-inspired western projects in the pipeline. Hollywood gossip links Richard Donner, the director of Lethal Weapon, with the movie version of the Japanese-inspired children's series Speed Racer, and both Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton have tried to get the go-ahead for film versions of Kazuo Koike's Mai The Psychic Girl, with Winona Ryder tipped to play the eponymous heroine. And after Terry Gilliam and Twister director Jan De Bont turned down the chance to remake Godzilla, the task went to Independence Day's director, Roland Emmerich.
But perhaps manga's best-known Hollywood exponent is James Cameron, director of the Terminator films. In 1996 it was revealed that he had optioned the rights to Hitoshi Iwaaki's Parasite, a manga unknown in the West but which had won a major award in Japan. The comic book, published in the late eighties, tells of a Japan invaded by vicious, bodysnatching aliens, and is notable for its shapeshifting assassins who turn their bodies into fluidic, metallic weapons - much as the assassin in 1991's Terminator 2 shapeshifted.
There is no question of plagiarism on Cameron's part regarding Parasite. Nevertheless, his purchasing of the rights is an astute buy. Hollywood lawyers talk of the problems of 'simultaneous creation', and Babylon 5 producer J Michael Straczynski has outlined the problem for aspiring writers, suggesting that originality is a difficult concept to define: 'The odds are that somebody out there has had the same idea, and you can only hope and pray that this person has never sent your studio an unsolicited manuscript or published his story in some little magazine somewhere, or you're going to be on the receiving end of a subpoena.' Cameron had already faced a successful plagiarism suit from the writer Harlan Ellison over coincidences of plotting in the first Terminator film, and it seems that buying up even remotely similar works is a far cheaper option than risking another legal battle.
Meanwhile, Disney's Buena Vista subsidiary has become the western distributor for Hayao Miyazaki, a leading manga creator whose animated films consistently out-perform Disney at the Japanese box -office. After some wrangling, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli and Buena Vista struck a deal that was to everybody's liking: Asian distribution rights remained with the Japanese while Buena Vista assumed the responsibility of bringing Studio Ghibli's films to the rest of the world. The first release under the new agreement is Studio Ghibli's latest production, Mononoke Hime, which is to be dubbed into English and titled Princess Ghost.
Disney are being typically smart in pursuing the rights to such high quality products. In Japan, the third largest box-office territory in the world, video sales of Toy Story and Pocahontas were eclipsed by those of Evangelion, a home-grown, fervently anti-Christian tale of invading angels from outer space. But one Disney film has done rather well in Japan: The Lion King. This is perhaps because it has much in common with Osamu Tezuka's highly -regarded 1966 television series Jungle Emperor, screened in the US as Kimba The White Lion.
The Disney company has vehemently denied that The Lion King was influenced by Tezuka's story. Yet some of Disney's animators, and even Matthew Broderick (who provided the voice of Disney's Simba) said that they were aware of the original series from their own childhood. Helen McCarthy, editor of the British magazine Manga Mania, has noted a number of similarities between the two works, pointing out that '. . . both stories feature mandrill baboons as spiritual advisers to the king, hyena sidekicks to the usurper and poetic image sequences in which the image of a lion appears in the clouds'. The stampede sequence in The Lion King mirrors one in the Kimba series, in which Kimba also fails to stop the animals and attempts to throw off his kingly duties.
The Japanese reaction was considered. Tezuka Productions president Takayuki Matsutani issued a press release to the effect that his company ' . . . did not believe that lawsuits are an appropriate way of resolving disputes of this nature . . . We therefore have no intention at this time of filing a lawsuit against Disney'.
In spite of such legal wrangles, Hollywood's interest in Japanese material continues undaunted, and many directors remain keen to get involved in co-productions and adaptations. Christophe Gans, the French director of Crying Freeman, scripted his own adaptation of the manga by Kazoo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami. Like Japan, Gans's native country does not regard comics as a solely juvenile form, and it should come as no surprise that the first major live-action feature film based on a manga should have a French director.
Crying Freeman was filmed for $ 8 million, with finance from Asia, Europe and America and pre-sales to a number of other territories making it profitable before a single frame was even shot. In France, it became the year's most successful action film, despite running against big names such as Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal in Executive Decision, and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Sudden Death. 'We just crushed them,' says Gans, 'simply because it was a choice
between Freeman and two post-Die Hard action films.' This success has allowed him to fully finance his next feature, after which he will adapt another best-selling manga, the futuristic police drama Patlabor.
But what is it that attracts directors such as Cameron and Gans to manga as potential source material? Crying Freeman, Gans argues, is a classical tale far beyond the literacy level of most American comics. 'The setting is contemporary, but the story is a period piece,' he says. 'The characters are not fighting for money or drugs; they are fighting for honour, pride and passion, just as you would imagine in the 15th century, in Japan or at the court of the Borgias.' And for Cameron, whose Digital Domain is a world leader in special effects, there are shots that can be achieved in animation that are as yet unimagined in what he describes as real-world photography. 'As the ability to create these effects increases,' he says, 'it becomes more important to create a style, and I think digital artists in the US are looking to animation to see what kind of style can be imposed upon it.'
The Japanese themselves are instigating much of the international interest in their material, actively seeking foreign finance and talent. Marvin Gleicher, whose company Manga Entertainment brought the animated versions of Ghost In The Shell and Patlabor to the west, is currently co-financing a number of projects in Japan. 'The projects that we are doing are based on the strength of the Japanese market and community, but we're attempting to make them a bit more westernised, not with character designs, but maybe storyline and music.' The leading Japanese producer Taro Maki - who invited composer Christopher Franke to score Tenchi Muyo In Love, and asked actors Keifer Sutherland and Elizabeth Berkeley to voice roles in Armitage III - is among those who values such participation. 'Character designers and directors need to be Japanese for the sake of communication and style,' he says, 'but the Americans and the French have great talent in other areas.' This may explain why, following the success of his live-action Crying Freeman, Christophe Gans was approached by Japanese licensors with a selection of other properties. 'They said, 'What do you want to do?' and gave me a list of comics: Midnight Eye Goku by Buichi Terasawa; Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita, and Patlabor, which I am going to do.' Anyone interested in these titles can check the appeal for themselves, years ahead of any live-action release, as all the animated versions are already available in UK video shops.
Marvin Gleicher has a warning for Hollywood, though. He feels that the studios may come unstuck if they lose sight of what gave the material its initial appeal. 'The fact that some of these live-action films are based on manga will increase the awareness of Japanese culture in a positive sense. But some of the studios will fail if they attempt to westernise the films too much.' Crying Freeman is released on May 9.
7). The Washington Post (excerpts)
May 15, 1997, Thursday, Final Edition
Cross-Cultural Cartoon Cult; Japan's Animated Futuristic Features Move From College Clubs to Video Stores
BYLINE: Paula Span, Washington Post Staff Writer
Last summer, Disney acquired distribution rights to several feature-length animations by revered Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Eight of the movies are destined for video stores, while "Princess Minonoke" may also be seen in theaters and on television. The anime world is braced for the aftershocks. "Their power of promotion and advertising will draw a lot of attention," O'Donnell says.
That's the good news. But for the true otaku (see glossary) -- whose demand for authenticity is such that subtitled anime, with the original Japanese voices and accurate translations, is widely preferred to English dubbing -- there's a potential dark side. "Whether Disney will edit them, rescore them, change all the names to Tommy and Suzie remains to be seen," O'Donnell says, sounding less than sanguine.
8). The Hollywood Reporter
May 27, 1997
Tokuma looks to merge film, media distribution
By Wayne Karrfalt TOKYO _
Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., parent of major animation producer Studio Ghibli and movie studio Daiei, has announced a series of mergers aimed at consolidating the company's media operations.
Studio Ghibli, software and game magazine producer Tokuma Shoten Intermedia and Tokuma International Ltd. will be consolidated June 1.
Group president Yasuyoshi Tokuma said the reorganization could help boost annual group sales from 80 billion yen ($700 million) to 100 billion yen ($870 million). The company hopes the merger will help arrest the recent slide in Tokuma's publishing interests by strengthening ties between the firm's film and media distribution arms.
The move will not affect the company's distribution relationship with the Walt Disney Co., according to sources at Tokuma International. Buena Vista Home Entertainment is set to release three Hayao Miyazaki-helmed Studio Ghibli titles for video sell-through this summer. Miramax is aiming for a June release for Daiei hit ''Shall We Dance.'' And Buena Vista International is preparing the theatrical distribution of Miyazaki's ''Princess Mononoke'' in Europe this fall.
Studio Ghibli has invested most of its resources on ''Princess Mononoke,'' an environmentally themed film that has been 15 years in the making. The budget has swelled to more than $18 million after extra animators were brought in to meet a July 12 release date. Japanese distributor Toho predicts the film will notch up earnings comparable to rentals for ''Independence Day,'' which totaled some 6 billion yen ($52 million).
But the film faces stiff competition. ''Princess'' opens the same day as ''The Lost World: Jurassic Park,'' the sequel to ''Jurassic Park,'' which was the second-highest-earning film in Japanese history. It also must fight for young viewers with BVI's ''Hercules,'' to be released July 26. Studio Ghibli had been pushing for a July 19 release. But Toho refused, reserving the spot for ''Gakko no Kaidan 3,'' a film that it produced and targeted for the family market.
Tokuma, meanwhile, will consider merging with Daiei itself in the coming year. It also is currently in talks with digital satellite broadcaster DirecTV to become an investor in the platform, which launches in the fall.
9). ASIA PULSE
June 10, 1997
JAPAN'S TOKUMA, DISNEY TO WORK ON ANIMATION PROJECT
Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co. and Walt Disney Productions of the U.S. are set to embark on a joint project.
"Mononoke Hime" ("The Specter Princess"), the first Tokuma animated film to be distributed worldwide by Disney, will be released here in July.
Over 2 billion yen (S17.16 million) will be spent to advertise the film, and the companies are projecting distribution income of 6 billion yen, a record high return on a Japanese film.
Video versions of older animations, including "Tonari no Totoro" ("My Neighbour Totoro"), will hit the market in late June through Disney's Japan visual-media subsidiary, which expects to sell over a million copies per title.
Observers worldwide are watching the fortunes of this Japan-U.S. media venture to increase the value of visual software assets for the impending "multichannel era."
The 2.3 billion yen it cost to produce "Mononoke Hime" has been shared by Tokuma, Studio Jhibli (which merged with Tokuma) , Nippon Television Network Corp. and Dentsu Inc.
It will be released in July through Toho Co. theaters.
As the only "special sponsor," the Nippon Life Insurance Co. will help support PR efforts through television commercials and its force of door-to-door insurance sales people.
The total investment of about 5 billion yen for both production and advertising is "the largest ever for a Japanese animation," says Tokuma President Yasuyoshi Tokuma.
The company plans to draw a larger audience to "Mononoke Hime" than "Nankyoku Monogatari" ("Antarctic Story") did in 1983, when it set the Japanese distribution-income record of 5.8 billion yen.
Disney plans to distribute "Mononoke Hime" worldwide, focusing particularly on the U.S., Brazil, France, Germany and Italy, this summer.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment Co., Disney's visual media subsidiary in Japan, intends to release its first video adaptation on June 27.
The Jhibli film "Tonari no Totoro" will sell for 4500 yen per copy. The company has set a Japan sales target of 2 million copies, close to the record 2.2 million-copy record it set with "Aladdin."
It will continue to release Hayao Miyazaki's animated films on video, including "Mimi wo Sumaseba" ("Whisper of the heart") in July, "Kaze no Tani no Naushika" ("Nausicaa of the Vale of the Wind) in September, and "Majo no Takkyubin" (Kiki's Delivery Service) later this year.
It also plans to sell over a million video copies each of animated films by Miyazaki.
Tokuma will receive royalties from Disney on film and video sales in Japan and overseas.
Miyazaki, the golden goose
The Japanese film industry is full of good news this year.
The current big hit "Shitsurakuen" ("Paradise Lost"), directed by Yoshimitsu Morita for Toho, drew over a million people and a projected 1.5 billion yen in distribution income.
Shohei Imamura's "Unagi" ("Eel"), produced by Shochiku, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and offered the world an opportunity to get to know more about Japanese films.
In the Japanese film industry, 1 billion yen in distribution income is a big hit.
The number of Japanese movie theaters has been falling, to less than 2000 today, and blockbuster hits have been few lately: "Gakko no Kaidan 2" (School Ghost Story Part 2; Toho, 1996) made about 1.56 billion yen, and "Shall We Dance?" (Toho, 1996) about 1.5 billion yen.
The market environment is making it increasingly hard to find pay dirt, and even films starring teen idols and TV stars have been going down in flames.
But people are flocking to cartoons and monster movies. In particular the animations of Hayao Miyazaki have been consistent hits, outperforming any number of live-action films.
Miyazaki's work has a reputation "as the gold mine of the Japanese film industry," says an industry source.
"Nankyoku Monogatari" (Antarctic Story; Toho), the current top moneymaker among Japanese films, was also popular in the U.S., but the U.S. version was heavily edited.
However, the edited version is legally considered a new work, and the copyright is held by the U.S. editor.
In its contract with Disney, Studio Jhibli stipulated that its films cannot be reedited. If the the worldwide releases succeed, it will receive royalties from Disney.
Most of the Japanese films that become hits overseas are animations, like "Doraemon."
Japanese animation techniques are prized around the world, and Hollywood studios "have begun headhunting talented Japanese animators," says a film industry source.
If Disney succeeds with the distribution of Jhibli films abroad, joint Japan-U.S. film ventures could become a new trend.
Studio Jhibli was set up in 1985, backed mainly by Tokuma, and it's one of a very few companies in the world dedicated to full-length animations for theaters.
Although it was merged into Tokuma on June 1, it still holds the Studio Jhibli Co. name as a company-within-the-company.
As part of the merger deal, Jhibli's former majority shareholder, Nibariki, which manages the rights to Miyazaki's films, now holds 15% of Tokuma stock.
In the animation world, the wage for drawing staff has been set per one picture. With the success of "Majo no Takkyubin"(Kiki's delivery service) in 1989, Jhibli moved from using short-term project teams that were disbanded on completion of the film to putting key personnel on the full-time payroll and regularly hiring new graduates, and the company currently has about 100 full-time employees.
Its personnel costs during the production season, including those for freelancers, is about 90 million yen a month, which amounts to about 1 billion yen per year.
Tokuma joined with Disney partly because it had an urgent need to secure funding to cover the inevitable costs of maintaining the high quality of Jhibli animations.
In the future it is possible that Jiburi will adapt Disney originals for the Japanese market. The company plans to make the most of its position, such as sharing digital technologies used in the Disney studios.
10). The Hollywood Reporter
September 30, 1997
'Princess' is no fairy-tale sell: Disney may find it hard to market violent Japanese ani hit
Wayne Karrfalt, TOKYO
Disney marketing mavens have a tough assignment: How do they sell in the United States a Japanese animated hit that has serious adult themes, social commentary and violence?
Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke", for which Buena Vista Home Entertainment picked up the international rights last year, continues to dominate the Japanese boxoffice, rapidly approaching "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial's" 15-year-old record of $136 million.
Disney's biggest challenge will be to break through the perception in the United States that animation is for kids. "Mononoke" is a sweeping, at times bloody historical epic with complicated environmental and human themes.
Although it is attracting some children in Japan, the bulk of the audience is adults. The film is so popular that lines are forming from 6 a.m. to see it, with waiting times of up to four hours.
"Outside of the U.S., animation is a mature art form," said Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Michael Johnson. "Only in America do people confuse it with cartoons."
He said "Mononoke" will be released in both dubbed and subtitled versions, predicting that older audiences will prefer to see the latter.
Disney struck a deal last year with Studio Ghibli parent Tokuma Shoten for eight other Miyazaki titles, the last five of which were top boxoffice hits in Japan. The deal gives Buena Vista the rights to distribute "Mononoke" theatrically.
The company's aim is to take it theatrically initially, a Buena Vista spokesman said Monday, but plans are still to be determined. Speculation in Japan is that Miramax will handle the theatrical release, but Disney has yet to decide which branch it will give it to.
"We're going to give it the widest possible release here," said Johnson, who is expected to meet with Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki to iron out the details. "We want to build a mystique around this film; I think it deserves it."
It does seem certain that Buena Vista International will be taking charge outside of the United States, however, with releases planned in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia and Brazil, where there is a sizable Japanese population.
Another concern is the two-hour-plus length of the film, which under the Tokuma agreement cannot be cut. Miyazaki personally insisted on this condition.
Meanwhile, several video titles of Miyazaki's back catalog are being prepared for an aggressive distribution plan beginning next April. BVHE will hire "A-level talent" for the voices, and attempt smaller-scale theatrical releases in art-house and college campus theaters.
Compiled by Ryoko Toyama