“In Japan, family animated films from foreign countries are quite complicated to distribute”
– The Japanese distributor spoke about Child Film’s efforts to bring European arthouse animated films to the country and how local audiences have changed over the past two years
During this year’s Cartoon Movie (March 8-10), we had the opportunity to chat with Kudo Masako, founder of Japanese distribution company Child Film, who attended the event remotely. We asked a few questions about the company’s mission to acquire auteur animation and the specifics of the Japanese market in terms of audience and distribution.
Cineuropa: First of all, could you describe Child Film’s main activities and editorial policy?
Congratulations Masako: I used to work in a company called Tokyo Theatres. At the time, the company had several cinemas in Tokyo and other cities in Japan. I was buying content for his distribution arm. Then I became independent 11 years ago because I wanted to start showing kids a wider variety of movies. As you know, in Japan, there is so much animation. But I wanted to show something different from what they used to watch. I started distributing animated films in 2014. The first film I distributed was Moomins and the hunt for comets [+see also:
film profile]. When I was still working for Tokyo Theaters, I saw Kels’ secret [+see also:
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interview: Tomm Moore
interview: Viviane Vanfleteren
film profile], a film very different from typical European or American animated productions. I wasn’t sure of its potential because it was very much about Celtic history and set in the Middle Ages. I was unsure about its appeal to Japanese audiences. I decided to keep my eyes on one of the directors [Tomm Moore], corn. Then Cartoon Salon came out song of the sea [+see also:
interview: Tomm Moore
film profile], I looked at it and decided to bring it to the Japanese market. It was very well received, we distributed it here in 2016. […] The good thing was that it could also be screened in arthouse cinemas, not just family rooms. The audience was aged 20 and over. After the theatrical release, we received great requests for non-theatrical screenings in libraries and other public places, and children started attending. So I managed to intercept both audiences. In Japan, family animated films from foreign countries are quite complicated to distribute. Disney and Illumination films are successful but other films are struggling. There are so many TV series available in Japan and children go to see movies in the cinema based on TV series such as Doraemon or Pokemon. They already know the characters and stories and buy their wares. In order to introduce new films to children, we have to spend a lot of money on marketing, and television advertising is essential. The artistic animation market is not that big and it is too risky for distributors.
When did you start dating Cartoon Movie?
I didn’t know anything about Cartoon Movie at first. But the producer of Cartoon Saloon, Gerry Shiren, recommended that I attend the forum. I wanted to attend, but I couldn’t come because it happens right after the Berlin Film Festival, and leaving Berlin and coming back for Cartoon Movie is very complicated. We are a very small company, only two of us work here. So it’s not so easy to arrange [travel]. I first attended in 2019. Then the pandemic started, and last year I also attended remotely.
How has the Japanese market reacted to the health crisis?
In 2020, all cinemas in the country were closed. Then some Japanese directors stepped in to protect theaters. They started crowdfunding. They raised around $3 million. At first, this support helped a lot. Now cinemas are open, but sometimes only at 50% capacity. Obviously, not all audiences returned, especially the elderly. After two years, the crisis is gradually strangling certain cinemas. A well-respected arthouse cinema, Iwanami Hall, which had more than 50 years of history, will close in September due to the pandemic. All arthouse fans are shocked by this news. But for now, on the whole, most theaters survive, one way or another.
What about the distribution sector?
So far, no distribution company has gone out of business, but I’m not sure if it will be like that for another six or twelve months. We don’t know how this will evolve. Our business is really small. We don’t have an office, we work from home. We only distribute one or two films a year. You don’t make a fortune, but it’s enough to keep going. So I think small companies working in the arthouse scene can survive, large companies will do well, but medium-sized companies – those with, say, 20 employees – are maybe more at risk. In Japan, the auteur cinema audience is quite old. In the 1980s and 1990s, young people started seeing arthouse films, but now the audience is getting older and older. This young audience is not coming back. Now we have to find ways to change things. We have to find something to target the younger generations. Music documentaries are doing well, for example, as they appeal to younger audiences.