×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

Popular on Variety

“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.”

More Film

  • Pierce Brosnan Cinderella

    Pierce Brosnan to Play the King in Camila Cabello's 'Cinderella'

    Pierce Brosnan will play the king opposite Camila Cabello in writer-director Kay Cannon’s new telling of “Cinderella” for Sony Pictures. Billy Porter, Idina Menzel and Nicholas Galitzine are also confirmed to star in the film, which will be released in theaters Feb. 5, 2021. Cabello, a multi-platinum selling and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, will be integrally involved [...]

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega: 'Star Wars' Fandom Conflict Is 'The Most Stupid Thing in the World'

    Unlike his “Star Wars” compatriots Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, John Boyega enjoys a robust presence on social media, with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter and over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. He regularly engages with fans, and posts inside looks at his life inside the “Star Wars” media maelstrom. It’s meant that Boyega [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

    'Watchmen' Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says He Would Consider Playing Superman

    Those who are caught up on “Watchmen” know Yahya Abdul-Mateen II knows how to strike the balance between understated and omnipotent. He’s also no stranger to playing superheroes, as Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta in the DC Universe. But asked whether he would consider taking on another DC Extended Universe role — Superman — Abdul-Mateen told [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    'Once Upon a Time,' 'Farewell,' 'Judy' Excluded From Writers Guild Awards

    The scripts for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” and Tom Edge’s “Judy” have been excluded from the Writers Guild of America Awards. Unlike other guilds, the WGA excludes as candidates any screenplays not produced under its jurisdiction or that of another guild. That’s because the WGA has the [...]

  • The Matrix Keanu Reeves Carrie Ann

    'The Flash' and 'The Matrix 4' Get Release Dates From Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has dated the fourth “The Matrix” movie and “The Flash” for summer openings in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and pulled “Akira” off the schedule. The studio announced Wednesday that “The Flash” would be released on July 1, 2022, while the untitled “Matrix” would open on May 21, 2021. “The Flash” will star Ezra [...]

  • Promising Young Woman trailer

    Carey Mulligan Gets Revenge in 'Promising Young Woman' Trailer

    Carey Mulligan is a vengeance-seeking, rape-culture-dismantling badass in the trailer for “Killing Eve” showrunner Emerald Fennell’s new film, “Promising Young Woman.” “Every week, I go to a club. I act like I’m too drunk to stand. And every week, a nice guy comes over to see if I’m okay,” Mulligan says coldly over a violinist’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content