×

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.”

More Film

  • Toronto Film Festival Lineup

    Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres

    This year’s Toronto Film Festival will feature super-villain origin stories, splashy literary adaptations, and Tom Hanks as the most beloved performer in children’s television. The Canadian celebration of all things movies unveiled its 2019 lineup on Tuesday, and it appears to be an eclectic mixture of glossy awards bait, auteur-driven indies, and populist crowd-pleasers. It’s [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone Variety Cover story

    Sylvester Stallone Feels Robbed of an Ownership Stake in 'Rocky': 'I Was Furious'

    Sylvester Stallone shares an uncanny, symbiotic connection with Rocky, the underdog boxer character he created four decades ago — a kindred spirit who served as his creative muse in spawning one of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises. In his long career Stallone also played another memorable screen role — John Rambo — but Rocky was [...]

  • Beware of Children

    First Trailer Released for Venice Days Entry 'Beware of Children' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the first trailer for Dag Johan Haugeruds’ politically and socially charged drama “Beware of Children,” which premieres as part of the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section. The pic, which is being sold at Venice by Picture Tree Intl., features the dramatic aftermath of a tragic incident in [...]

  • The Tower animated film about Palestinians

    ‘The Tower’ Animation Wins Japan's Skip City Festival

    “The Tower,” Mats Grorud’s animation about the plight of the Palestinians, as viewed through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl in Beirut, won the grand prize in the international competition at the 16th edition of Skip City International D-Cinema Festival. The film also scooped the section’s audience award. The Skip City festival, which launched in [...]

  • For web story

    Transgender Immigrant Pic 'Lingua Franca,' Thriller 'Only Beasts' to Bow at Venice Days

    New York-based Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca,” about a transgender immigrant, is among 11 competition entries, all world premieres, that will launch from the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section. The only U.S. entry set to compete in the section modeled on Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, “Lingua Franca” is Sandoval’s third work. It [...]

  • Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big

    Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big At Durban FilmMart Awards

    DURBAN–Female-driven narratives and daring portraits of queer culture around the continent were the big winners at this year’s Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, which handed out awards at a ceremony Monday night at the Southern Sun Maharani Hotel. Among the prize-winners were the story of a Zimbabwean woman [...]

  • Oscar Nominations Reactions Phyllis Nagy

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy Runs for Writers Guild Presidency, Citing Agency Stalemate

    Oscar-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s incumbent president David Goodman, citing his handling of the bitter stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy announced her candidacy online Monday night, a day before the deadline for filing. She made the announcement  in a private online group as part of Writers for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content