In 2015, All Nippon Entertainment Works, a company that connects Japanese intellectual property owners to Hollywood producers, announced the production of a live-action adaptation of the anime series “Tiger & Bunny.” That film was never made although it was announced May 8 that Global Road, Bandai Namco Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s Weed Road Pictures are partnering to make a live-action movie of the property. But despite that fact, none of the half-dozen films under ANEW were completed prior to its sale last year at a tremendous loss.
ANEW was once was a key component in the trade ministry’s Cool Japan initiative, which aims to promote the nation’s creative and cultural products and services around the world.
However, the loss raises questions about its management.
“ANEW is like institutional corruption,” says film producer Hiro Masuda, who has done significant research into ANEW and its former owner, the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, an entity backed nearly entirely by the government. Masuda had sought funding from the government, and then started to dig into ANEW and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which in 2011 had announced an investment of ¥6 billion (around $80 million at the time) into ANEW via INCJ. Through documents obtained through Japan’s Freedom of Information Act, Masuda took on a whistleblower role.
The INCJ pumped $20 million into ANEW in 2011-17 — including fees to U.S. producer Sandy Climan, who served as CEO — but it never released a single film. Reports last year allege that the executive team at ANEW was constantly in disarray.
An article in magazine Facta last year (and sourced by Masuda’s research) revealed that Kyoto-based Future Venture Capital bought ANEW in 2017 for around $311,000 in today’s currency exchange, a staggering loss given the government investment to that point. At the time of the sale, FVC said it was planning to create movies for the global market.
ANEW is not the only company affiliated with Cool Japan, a promotion vehicle for everything from food to film, to have been scuttled by INCJ. In 2016, digital content firm Gloczus was jettisoned after underperforming.
Given that big corporations such as Hitachi, Sony and Toyota have a small stake (5%) in INCJ — with the government taking the rest — it is considered a public-private company, one not obligated to disclose financial information. As such, a representative of METI, when reached for comment on ANEW and INCJ, says, “We would like to refrain from commenting [on] private companies.”
As for Climan, he has since moved on to mobile gaming company Akatsuki. Through his publicist, he says he is unable to comment on ANEW.
Kukhee Choo, media and cultural studies scholar at Sophia U. in Tokyo, is not surprised by the problems, saying the Japanese government’s focus has been on peddling the image of Cool Japan overseas — in what she calls “image politics” — over sound management. “Each ministry has their own agenda,” Choo says. “They are not really collaborating with the other ministries, often resulting in non-communication and sometimes conflict.”
“Japan does not have film incentives like many other countries that are necessary to finance films and TV projects,” says producer Masuda, who began his research into METI after running into difficulties in getting film financing. “As a result, Japan’s entire creative industry is suffering, and after I noticed the huge amount of public money being wasted within Cool Japan, I thought I could not pass this ridiculous situation on to the next generation.”