×
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

  • Celebrities Sound Off on 2018

    Celebrities Pick Their Favorite Movies and TV Shows of 2018

    Still looking for the latest and greatest movie, TV series or book to finish before the year is out? Why not ask the folks behind Hollywood’s favorite hits, what they’re reading and viewing this 2018. We reached out to the stars and creators behind the things you love (including Barry Jenkins, Steven Canals and Dan Levy)  to [...]

  • Kate Winslet Saoirse Ronan

    Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan to Star in Fossil Hunter Movie 'Ammonite'

    Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are starring in the independent historical drama “Ammonite,” a story inspired by the life of fossil hunter Mary Anning. The story is set in 1840s England, when Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever. Anning is [...]

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Salads for two.jpg

    Palm Springs Cuisine Scene: Latest Places to Dine in the Desert

    Desert playgrounds of the Coachella Velley beckon attendees of the upcoming Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival, getting under way Jan. 3. Veteran festgoers will notice some changes around town: the Hard Rock Hotel is again the Hotel Zoso, the Camelot Theaters now function under the auspices of the Palm Springs Cultural Center and there are [...]

  • Mary Poppins 1964

    P.L. Travers' Efforts to Adapt 'Mary Poppins' for Film, TV Were Often Less Than Jolly

    Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” a sequel decades in the making, opens Dec. 19. Even before the 1964 original, Hollywood made several attempts to adapt P.L. Travers’ books, with Samuel Goldwyn and Katharine Hepburn among those involved in the chase. But aside from a one-hour 1949 CBS television version, they all hit a dead-end. The first [...]

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me

    How the Palm Springs Film Festival Overcame a Rocky Start

    In January, the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival will celebrate its 30th birthday. It’s a celebration that came very close to never happening. Founded by then-mayor of Palm Springs Sonny Bono in 1989, the festival was launched the following year to boost post-holiday business and help put the desert enclave on the map as a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content