×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Anime stays niche

Japanese pic's sun fails to rise in U.S. megaplexes

If anime was ever going to be the kind of mainstream cultural phenomenon in the U.S. that it is in Asia, 2003 sure seemed like a good year for it to happen.

Early in the year, Disney’s English-language release of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” captured the Oscar for animated feature amid big-budget competish from the likes of “Ice Age” and “Lilo & Stitch.”

“Spirited Away” was subsequently released wide on more than 700 U.S. screens, but it only managed to take in $10 million in domestic box office.

This has caused some to wonder if anime would ever catch on with U.S. theatrical auds in the same way that, say, CGI-animated pics have.

“I would never have guessed (anime) was going to become as popular (in the States) as it is, just within the animated fan group and homevideo sales,” says Fred Patten, author of “Watching Anime, Reading Manga” and who’s now-defunct Streamline Pictures was among the first to distribute anime domestically. “But I don’t know whether American adults can be persuaded to go see more anime theatrical releases.”

That’s not to say the genre hasn’t found an audience in the U.S.

Homevid distributors including ADV Films and Geneon Entertainment have built thriving businesses in the U.S. distributing anime DVDs to niche auds of primarily young adult males. Others, including Anchor Bay Entertainment, are aggressively entering the anime market.

Meanwhile, TV Japanimation hits such as “Pokemon,” “Digimon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” have translated well into kids TV ratings. Feature adaptations such as “Pokemon: The First Movie,” which took in $85 million in domestic B.O. in 1999, have been just as successful at bringing kids (and purists) into theaters.

Hope still springs eternal among anime enthusiasts that a U.S. theatrical release will catch on in the same big way that, say, “Shark Tale” did.

In any event, there are two anime-style pics that could contend in this year’s Oscar race :

  • “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,” from Japan, is a PG13-rated follow-up to the 1995 cult classic, and was released by DreamWorks’ indie division, Go Fish Pictures.

  • “Sky Blue,” from South Korea, combines cel and digital animation as well as live-action footage and miniatures to tell a futuristic sci-fi adventure story with an environmental message. It will open for a qualifying run in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, barely squeaking through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ year-end eligibility window.

Even if one of these two produces another Oscar win for anime, their U.S. distribs don’t expect them to produce big revenue at the box office.

Production budgets for anime, which are dwarfed by those of big-studio CGI fare, allow for far more modestly scaled distribution models. “We did the movie for about a tenth of what other studios spend to make (animated) movies,” notes Sunmin Park, who produced the English-language version of “Sky Blue.” The pic came in at under $15 million.

With only 30-35 prints active at any one time, “Ghost in the Shell 2” is on pace to earn about $1 million in domestic B.O.

Michael Vollman, who oversees marketing for Go Fish Pictures, says the studio is pleased with that kind of performance.

“(One million dollars) is silly in the world of ‘Shrek’ or ‘Shark Tale,’ but for the anime world, it’s a nice milestone,” Vollman explains. “We’ve completely exceeded our profitability targets. We had a number that we needed to make, and we’ve almost doubled it.”

More Film

  • Midnight Traveler review

    Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler'

    Refugees rarely get to tell their own stories, which means their stories get told for them — often inaccurately and with undue hostility. Lack of resources is one issue, but a lack of stability is another: Asylum-seekers are in a frightening state of limbo, fleeing the imminent dangers of their native countries only to suffer [...]

  • WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make

    WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals if Agents are Fired

    The Writers Guild of America has authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7. The guild’s negotiating committee notified members of the plans in a message Wednesday. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made [...]

  • Gone With the Wind Screening

    Film News Roundup: 'Gone With the Wind' Sets Event Cinema Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Gone with the Wind” sets a new record, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is acquired, and Tracy Oliver signs with Topic Studios. EVENT CINEMA RECORD The 80th anniversary release of “Gone with the Wind” has grossed $2.23 million in six nationwide screenings on four dates — a record as the [...]

  • Made in Abyss - Journey’s Dawn

    Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’

    It’s a Herculean effort to take a multi-volume manga like author Akihito Tsukushi’s “Made in Abyss,” adapt it into a popular anime television series, and then compress the show into a coherent feature (technically, two movies), but the folks at Sentai Filmworks have done just that. Part one, “Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn,” will screen [...]

  • HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market

    HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market Winners

    Eighteen prizes were presented on Wednesday afternoon at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The project market sits alongside FilMart as part of the Entertainment Expo in Hong Kong. “Wong Tai Sin Assassination” to be directed by Wong Hoi and produced by Derek Kwok Tsz-kin, was named the winner of [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

    The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks. WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped [...]

  • Noah Centineo He-Man

    Noah Centineo to Play He-Man in 'Masters of the Universe' Reboot

    From a boy (who’s loved) to He-Man. Noah Centineo is in talks to take on the superhero in Sony Pictures and Mattel Films’ “Masters of the Universe.” Brothers Adam and Aaron Nee are directing the reboot. Mattel Films is partnering with Sony on the movie, which is based on Mattel’s beloved toy line that spawned [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content