TOKYO – The name, if strange, was chosen on purpose. When the small Japanese distributor Cinema Parisien was taken over and recapitalized by the stock market-listed publishing company Artist House in early March, it changed its name to Wise Policy.
In fact, that’s what the company will need in an environment beset by struggling independent distributors increasingly competing for the same range of midbudget films.
“We chose this name because we know that we can be successful as a niche player with films nobody else wants,” explains Wise Policy prexy Atsushi Okita.
Having established Cinema Parisien as a small distributor concentrating on arthouse releases of French films in 1997, Okita knows the rules of the game.
Thanks to excellent connections with France’s film world from his previous job, Cinema Parisien became a key distrib of French fare, making names for a number of French helmers and thesps in Japan. Independent films from other countries also found their Japanese home at Cinema Parisien.
As Wise Policy, the company is striving for bigger things, following its credo to pick up a number of pics on a pre-buy basis while acquiring others as completed movies.
Recent high-profile acquisitions include “The Assassination Of Richard Nixon” starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, and “Bad Santa” as well as “The Yank” with Elijah Wood. Deals for the latter two were signed at the latest AFM.
“We don’t intend to, and cannot, compete with big companies, such as Gaga Communications or Nippon Herald,” Okita says. “There are always films the others are not interested in.”
This might be over-optimistic in Japan these days, however: Major distribution players, such as Gaga and Nippon Herald, were forced to recapitalize recently, with the latter now being part of Kadokawa-Daiei Pictures, itself part of the expansionist Kadokawa publishing and media group which now holds 44.1% of Herald. Kadokawa also owns a majority stake in distrib Asmik Ace Entertainment.
Only Toshiba Entertainment (previously Amuse Pictures) continues to spend generously on acquisitions, causing some to wonder how long the org can keep up its deep-pocket strategy.
These restructuring efforts go hand in hand with a basic strategy switch at those stressed companies. The new credo: Reduce the acquisition of expensive Hollywood tentpoles and concentrate more on midrange and Asian films.
This brings them right into the playing field of much smaller players, such as Wise Policy and numerous other, often struggling independent distribs.
“The situation is really tough, as so many companies all want the same films,” sighs an executive at one of the smaller distribs in Tokyo.
Such pessimism doesn’t faze Okita a bit. “In Japan, there is always an audience for all sorts of films. We’ll distribute only about four a year, but we’ll do those really well.”
He’s hoping this philosophy will guide Wise Policy through the pitfalls of an increasingly competitive market, where more cash than ever has to be spent to make a movie a box office success.