Market research differs in Japan

It plays it safe by basing pics on proven properties

TOKYO — The Japanese film biz has followed the Hollywood example in many ways over the years, from making domestic versions of Hollywood hits (starting with the silents of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd) to Toho’s early adoption of the Hollywood producer system for its own pics, including its iconic “Godzilla” series.

The local biz, however, has never taken the Hollywood path of market research. It has instead evolved its own well-proven methods for ensuring a pic’s audience appeal.

The lineup of Toho, by far the biggest and most successful distrib, has for years consisted almost entirely of pics based on proven properties from other local media, including toons, comics, games and bestsellers.

The rare exceptions, such as the original toons of Studio Ghibli’s resident genius Hayao Miyazaki, are usually branded with the name of their famous maker.

Yuka Hoshino, board member of independent distrib Gaga, points to the long-established production committee (seisakuiinkai) system of companies from various media sectors, including broadcasters, radio stations, publishers and ad shops, that band together to finance and publicize pics.

“Usually, most of them are not professional film production or distribution companies,” she says. “Their interest is not making a good film, rather a safe film to invest in … so it is difficult to make a film from scratch.”

For the production committee, in other words, market research often begins and ends with examining the sales numbers of, say, a best-selling comic paperback series that has, in turn, generated a high-rated TV toon show. And quite often the publisher of the books and the broadcaster of the show are committee members.