Leading Japanese indie distributor Gaga Corp. is planning build on its brand recognition with the Japanese public and to expand the range and number of films it acquires.
As part of a strategic review, the company will also launch a new distribution label, dubbed Gaga +.
“The company is coming up to 30 years in 2016 and has achieved a lot, but we need to keep moving and stay relevant,” said Tom Yoda, the former music industry mogul who took over the company in 2004 and is now its chairman.
The company is typically associated with handling mid-range foreign-language titles, but now plans to take on a wider range of films, from single-screen arthouse titles to larger commercial movies.
“We need to be both distributor, which is a somewhat mechanical process, as well as a curator. We need to reflect the essence of film itself,” Yoda told Variety. That means an expansion of the number of films acquired each year and an embrace of different distribution models.”
In Berlin, Gaga acquired “Ixcanul Volcano,” the Spanish-language picture directed by Jayro Bustamente, which it will package as a high-quality release in 2016. It also picked up Iranian drama “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.”
“For this kind of movie we are looking at releasing into small theaters and doing simultaneous day-and-date downloads,” said Yoda. “We don’t believe that online distribution will damage the theatrical potential. The idea is to take these films to wider audiences, some of which may not often go to the cinemas.”
In today’s Japanese releasing environment this is radical stuff. While Japan is still the world’s third-largest theatrical market after North America and China, large local films have come to dominate the market, pushing aside many imported titles and severely denting the potential of many Hollywood titles. The process has bankrupted a large number of local independent distributors.
High ticket prices keep inflate grosses, but cinema attendance is low and the country has a markedly aging population. Moreover, P&A costs are prohibitive and releases may occur months or even years after a film’s bow in overseas markets or festivals.
The problems all point to a need for new distribution and marketing methods.
“Gaga is doing fine, and we are not going to jeopardize that,” said Yoda. “We are going to be very careful, very calculated and will not be overspending.”
Yoda says the company is also interested in handling Japanese pictures and doing joint business as part of the production committee system. “We cannot go it alone in the domestic business, because of the cost and the risk. Rather we will join the committees where they fit with our abilities and strengths. We are not going to become direct challengers to Japan’s domestic majors.”
The company’s involvement in Kore’eda Hirokazu’s 2013 Cannes competition film “Like Father, Like Son” saw Gaga as an investor, Japanese distributor and handle partial overseas rights. “Our Little Sister” is in the same mold: “Same director, same concept,” says Yoda.
“We have launched our own online platform Aoyama Theater. But we characterize our Internet strategy as only moderately aggressive. DVD continues to survive because Japanese culture is very much a packaging culture,” says Yoda.