×

Japan Gets Ready for Its Annecy Closeup

Japan may not appear to be a particularly surprising choice for the spotlight nation at the 2019 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. But since 1999, when Annecy last so honored Japan, much has changed, and 2019 finds Japanese animation bursting with creative and commercial potential and sitting on the verge of a global breakout.

“The focus on Japan makes sense from an industry perspective in terms of just the level of productions and global audience,” says Dave Jesteadt, president of GKIDS, U.S. distributor for many Japanese animated films, including the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki and several of the films playing the festival. “The Annecy team has done a great job in terms of matching that focus with films to back it up.”

This year, four of the 18 films in the feature competitions hail from Japan — more than any other nation and far from a rare occurrence. The festival’s most anticipated event is the work-in-progress presentation of “Weathering With You,” the follow-up to global smash “Your Name” from Makoto Shinkai. And the future of the Japanese animation industry, where an upsurge in productions has made it hard for studios to find and hire qualified animators, will be discussed in a panel titled “Japanese Animation on the International Stage: On the Eve of a New Boom?”

Fueling interest in Japanese animation is the global success of features such as “Your Name,” which set box office records at home and earned more than $120 million abroad, and streaming services bringing anime titles to new viewers across the globe.

“Anime traditionally had challenges for distribution real estate because maybe in certain markets it wasn’t quite big enough to secure meaningful, broad funnel distribution,” says John Derderian, head of Japan and anime for Netflix, which has partnered with Japanese companies for anime co-productions and will highlight its original anime slate at Annecy. “We can help [viewers] discover anime, and we’re seeing that happen.”

The widespread success of anime is far from an overnight sensation. “It’s a hard-to-find phenomenon, rooted in the discovery of Japanese animation through television in the 1970s,” says Marcel Jean, artistic director of the Annecy festival, citing TV series such as “Astro Boy,” “Speed Racer” and “Gatchaman” (a.k.a. “Battle of the Planets”). “There are now several generations of animation fans who grew up with these shows.”

Fans of that generation are finding themselves in decision-making positions in not just animation, but live action as well — a phenomenon previously seen in the rise of die-hard comic-book fans to entertainment executive offices.

The attention from Annecy is well received in Japan. “Many of the films nominated from Japan in the past were from well-known directors, so as a young director like myself, I was a bit surprised to hear that my film was nominated,” says Yuhei Sakuragi, director of the competition feature “The Relative Worlds.”

And Japan’s example is rubbing off, with the features coming out of South Korea and China rapidly getting better and finding bigger audiences.

“Asia’s rich culture and long history are valuable resources,” says Haipeng Sun, director of the competition feature from China, “Kung Food.” “By making good use of animation as a form of expression, Asian animation can bring extraordinary feelings to the audience.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Benedict Andrews (L) and US actress

    Kristen Stewart on the 'Insane Gall' of Directors as 'Seberg' Arrives in San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN – On Friday, Kristen Stewart and Benedict Andrews’ political thriller “Seberg” plays at the 67th San Sebastian Film Festival, where it opens Perlak, a section dedicated to the Spanish premieres of major international films. The star and her director addressed the media prior to the screening in the festival’s first high-profile press conference, [...]

  • Les Miserables

    Ladj Ly's Cannes Prize-Winner 'Les Miserables' Is France's Oscar Submission

    Ladj Ly’s politically charged drama “Les Miserables,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, has been chosen by France’s Oscar committee to enter the international feature film race. In one of the most competitive years for French movies, “Les Miserables” beat out Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the 18th-century-set romance which won [...]

  • David Kehrl neuer Head of Acquisitions

    'Resident Evil's' Constantin Names Acquisitions, International Co-Production Chief

    David Kehrl is to join Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent movie producer and distributor, as the head of acquisitions and international co-production. He will report to Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at Constantin Film, which produces the “Resident Evil” movies. Starting in February, Kehrl will be responsible for the acquisition of international theatrical [...]

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film finally has a name: Leonine. The company revealed its moniker Friday, saying that “Leonine” met its criteria of being associated with its home region of Bavaria and Munich, in southern Germany, and of [...]

  • Scattered Night

    San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

    After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection. An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content