“Songbird,” the Michael Bay-produced pandemic thriller that is headed straight to streaming in North America, will be given an in-cinema release in Japan. The rights pickup was the first acquisition by the newly-formed theatrical distribution arm of Japanese pay-TV leader Wowow.
The film takes place years in the future, in which a mutated strand of coronavirus, called COVID-23, continues to wreak havoc on the world’s population. As the country-wide lockdown stretches into its fourth year, infected Americans are forced into quarantine camps. Amid the dystopia, one courier (portrayed by “Riverdale” star KJ Apa) who is immune to the virus, falls in love with an aspiring artist (Sofia Carson), who is believed to be infected. Adam Mason directed the movie from a script he co-wrote with Simon Boyes. “Songbird” also stars Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Demi Moore and Paul Walter Hauser.
The production was backed by STX Entertainment. Kayo Washio, head of Wowow’s Los Angeles office, struck the acquisition deal with Endeavor Content, which is handling international sales for the film.
Wowow’s counterintuitive move is testament to the strength of the theatrical sector revival in Japan, after potentially the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year. In recent disease-free years, Japan has been the world’s third largest box office market, behind only North America and China. Japanese cinemas have successfully re-opened and theatrical analysis firm Gower Street has declared the market as only the second anywhere in the world to have essentially returned to normal, meaning that weekly revenues are driven by prosaic matters such as product and local holidays, rather than extraordinary ones such as seating capacity restrictions or public health orders that close cinemas.
Recent weeks at the Japanese box office have been dominated by local animation film “Demon Slayer The Movie Mugen Train” which had grossed more than $264 million by the end of November, overtaking “Titanic” to become the second biggest film of all time in the country.
The “Songbird” acquisition is also indicative of another 2020 trend in that traditional pay-TV companies the world over are seeing their businesses eroded by streaming services. Wowow has previously explained its expansion into old-fashioned theatrical releasing as part of the company’s efforts to diversify its revenue base.
“Theatrical distribution is a promising new business for us. We’re not naïve to the impact of the pandemic. It has and will continue to create unique challenges, but the cinematic experience is not going away, and challenges create opportunity,” said Wowow board director and managing executive officer Mizuguchi Masahiko, who launched and oversees the company’s new theatrical releasing operation.
“Wowow has built its platform with a focus on sustainability and scalability. In doing so, we are well positioned to navigate through uncertain times. We’re happy to have such an excellent film to lead our new theatrical slate and to build a new Wowow tradition of quality, commercially viable motion pictures.”
Wowow also recently boarded the highly-anticipated series “Tokyo Vice,” closing an all-rights distribution deal for Japan. The series deal will also see Wowow co-produce with Endeavor Content and HBO Max.
Some of Wowow’s theatrical film releases may be day and date with TV and streaming, while other films may see traditional release patterns with exclusivity in theaters first. Releasing decisions are to be made on a case-by-case basis with each film so that campaigns can be tailored appropriately. No precise release date is set for “Songbird,” with the company saying only that it will reach theaters in Japan in 2021.
“A universally relatable love story with a distinct Michael Bay feel to it, ‘Songbird’ is wholly unique as a story, and a film that can drive audiences to theaters in Japan. This movie works because the pandemic is being experienced all over the world and most people experience the same range of emotions and feelings including fear, trepidation and isolation, while also rethinking lives and what is important to us,” said Washio.