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Let's watch Japan's hoga bubble fly! - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:01 pm
Let's watch Japan's hoga bubble fly!

According to Michi Kaifu, editor of Hoga Central, "Hoga means 'domestic movie' in Japanese. I picked this name not only because the word is much shorter than 'Japanese Movie', but also because it implies 'the opinions/viewpoint of Japanese fans' about their own domestic movie".

Okay, so hoga is a film made in Japan, but also the feelings Japanese have towards their own domestic productions. Those feelings, as I learned yesterday from a comment here by Jason Gray, the Japanese correspondent of Screen International, are currently very warm indeed.



Jason wanted to correct a gloomy extrapolation I'd made from figures I'd found from the turn of the century. I'd extrapolated the kind of decline scenario you see in the (hypothetical) chart above, with American imports forcing Japanese film productions into the ground within a few decades. (Of course, this assumes the continuation of films as we know them, cinemas as we currently have them, and so on.) I lumped this "decline scenario" in with other hub and spoke phenomena. "If current trends continue (and I doubt they will, but that's for another day), by about 2040 no Japanese films will be watched in Japan; they'll all be American."

Okay, that more optimistic "other day" is today. Jason Gray told me yesterday: "Your assessment for the "future" of viewership here is based on figures from 7 years ago (!) and is completely the opposite of what's happening recently. Japanese films gained a majority share (53.2%) of the market in 2006, for the first time in over two decades. This is after year-on-year increases since the all-time low of '02. Most believe it's a bubble that may burst as soon as this year and that the high number of productions is causing a glut. Nonetheless, Japanese people are loving Japanese films more than any time in recent memory, aided by major synergy between different media (especially TV/film/publishing)."

So, for the last five years there's been this thing -- an amazing renaissance -- going on in Japanese film. They're calling it the "hoga bubble". The word "bubble", of course, is a metaphor which suggests that it's not particularly sustainable. Maybe it's a boom, but that still implies a bust somewhere down the line. Or is it a tipping point, a corner which has been definitively turned? Does it represent the end of the dominance of Hollywood in foreign markets? Will other countries follow Japan's example, and see their own domestic film productions take more than 50% of all box office? India's already there, of course, but you'd have to go back to the 1960s (and all those wonderful, smutty Carry On films starring Kenneth Williams and Sid James) to see a similar market share for British films in the British market, for instance. But if the bubble did turn out to be a corner, we might see our chart looking something like this:



A quick sketch of what caused the "hoga bubble". It's a lot to do with tying film production in to publishing and television successes. According to Michi Kaifu "Fuji TV started current "hoga bubble" by backing up Bayside Shakedown series, a detective-action story, based on its own TV-drama series. Its second feature film Bayside Shakedown 2 earned 17 billion yen, the historical highest gross among live action J-movies, in 2003." It's also a lot to do with animation (the only exportable element here), and specifically the huge success, in 2004, of "Howl's Moving Castle" by Miyazaki. (Even I went to see it, and I hardly ever go to the cinema!)

The best general survey of the hoga bubble I can find online is this one on the Cinemasie site (in French only). It says that for the first time for more than twenty years, local productions in 2006 took 53% of box office, overtaking foreign films (and 95% of those are American). That was up from 43% in 2005. Films produced per year are also up, to about 500 last year, from about 250 in 2002. The number of cinema seats is also increasing, as is the size of the domestic film market itself. Cinemasie notes the market domination of Toho, far ahead of domestic rivals Shochiku and Toei. It notes the tendency for co-production by television companies. And it notes the end of the Korea boom.

Michi Kaifu adds an interesting development -- an increase in the number of female directors. She mentions Miwa Nishikawa (Sway) and Naoko Ogiwara (Kamome Diner) as well as Mana Yasuda, Aya Watanabe and Mika Ninagawa, whose "Sakuran" was one of the buzz hits of the recent Berlinale film festival. This "breath of fresh air" is a trend I feel particularly close to, and somewhat involved in: Mika Ninagawa used one of my songs in her first short, Cheap Trip, and Emi Necozawa and I did soundtrack music for Noriko Shibutani's "Bambi (Heart) Bone".

I'm particularly interested in the larger cultural context in which this is happening. Jason Gray says "the Hollywood imports are appealing less and less to locals. Johnny Depp is a veritable God here, but #1-ranked Pirates (and #2 ranked Da Vinci Code) excepted, this year was unimpressive. Aside from Spider Man, Japanese audiences have limited interest in American superheroes like Superman and X-Men. M:i:III only made half of what the second film did. And when an animation style doesn't appeal, as in the case of Cars, it tanks no matter how huge the P&A budget is".

The hoga bubble trend certainly fits a picture of American cultural dominance receding, or at least allowing local expression to re-emerge, after a period of near-eclipse. It also fits a picture of a new mood I noticed emerging in Japan when I worked there two years ago at Future University in Hokkaido -- a "new mood of national narcissism", I called it at the time.

"This year I've been very aware of a surprising new mood in Japan, an intensely inward-looking mood akin to narcissism. Japan, increasingly, performs itself to itself as 'the other', as an exotic tourist destination primped for internal consumption. TV here in Hokkaido is an endless advertorial presentation of winter resorts where Japanese families go to marvel at intensely, even stereotypically, Japanese wonders; to bathe in hot springs, to sit on tatami mats in ryokan hotels, to sample inevitably delicious food. It's what deconstructionists would call 'the staging of difference against the scenery of standardisation and globalisation'."

Marxy also noticed the change in mood, although, typically, he saw it as less benign. In September 2005, noting the decline of the kind of Japanese TV ad featuring b-list American celebrities (the kind "Lost in Translation" celebrates), he called the new mood "neo-nationalistic navel-gazing". For him, a decline of Japanese interest in America was the result of less disposable income in Japan and less cosmopolitanism; an "unlucky generation" was "pushing towards a monotonous local orientation".

A boom, a bubble, a corner or a tipping point? Who knows. But now we have a term for it, let's watch Japan's hoga bubble fly!

29CommentReply



(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)

France also had record figures last year: French films had 45 percent of the market, only very marginally below American films at 45.8 percent. But I think the survival of French film in the face of the collapse of the British, German and Italian industries has a lot more to do with government support and funding than baseline cultural/popular support. Remove state funding and the industry would collapse as it did elsewhere in Europe. (Also, I wonder if 2006 was simply a poor year for U.S. blockbusters.)

Figures:
http://www.afcinema.com/Frequentation-annee-record-pour-le.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 11:52 am (UTC)

This table of international domestic share of box office is completely fascinating to me. While in the US, domestic films account for more than 90% of the box office, the situation in most other countries is the reverse -- domestic films have tiny market share (though it's increasing in many countries).

The chart leaves out India, where the situation is really remarkable. According to Bollywood.com, Hollywood accounts for just 5% of the Indian film market. This is because of the commercial vigour of the Bollywood industry, but also because "restrictions imposed on foreign investors in the entertainment industry are probably more responsible for the low Hollywood stakes in the Indian film market". In other words, protectionism plays its (legitimate) part here.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)

What I didn't do in the piece -- but at some point it has to be looked at -- is compare the rise of domestic box office takings in Japan and elsewhere to the findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. This shows that since the turn of the century, worldwide attitudes to America have shifted dramatically, shifting in most nations (with the interesting exceptions of Russia and India) from largely favourable to largely unfavourable.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC)

Those were the 2005 Pew figures I linked to, the 2006 figures show a further slip in America's image abroad.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 12:59 pm (UTC)

A group of people, cut off from other groups of people, develop their own unique culture. Once the barriers come down and these cultures begin to interact, you no longer have separate groups, but a single new group.

Cultural protectionism attempts to hinder the natural process where two groups living in contact with one another eventually become one.

The common culture will always tend towards the most efficient, the biggest, the most powerful. In the case of films, the American public has the largest pool of disposable income to put towards entertainment. Whether any of us here have any interest in a $200 million blockbuster is beside the point--those effects simply cannot be had by filmmakers working in smaller markets.

For millions of years, groups of humans had few differences. Then, for a period there, isolated groups developed unique cultures. This period of uniqueness entered its declining stages in the 16th century. We are living in a brief and unique period where the whole world has opened up to itself, but has yet to completely homogenize. As the internet becomes more ubiquitous, people will have increasing access to the same set of entertainment and information.

At some point in the next thousand years we'll likely be able to directly connect our brains to some kind of common network of information. At that point, individual differences will have been completely eliminated and humanity will be one whole mass, operating from a single "brain".

This appears to be where we're heading. Should we bother to delay the inevitable?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)

I think it's something a bit different. Previously, difference was something forced on us by ignorance of, and separation from, each other. Now, we have the choice to be different, and we're taking it, because it's a way of declaring who we are, and it's a way of interesting and relating to each other. Who would be a tourist if every destination was identical to the one you'd just left?

This is what I meant in the piece by "the staging of difference against a backdrop of homogeneity". Difference was once a necessity, now it's a choice.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)

But we have to look at possible changes in the way difference is generated. For this, let's go back to Monday's distinction between point to point and hub and spoke. Hub and spoke difference would be us all defining ourselves as, for instance, not American. Point to point difference would be muti-dimensional and multi-contextual. A Japanese would be a not-Korean, a not-American, a not-Chinese, a not-Indian, and so on. If, as many suggest, we're heading this century into a multi-polar world, point to point difference is the kind we're going to be seeing.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)

It's interesting that, on a global level, your message resembles the romantic individualism that you deride on a societal level. On a societal level, "choosing to be different", "declaring who you are", "difference against a backdrop of homogeneity" are the kind of things you say reflect the romantic delusion of being able to opt out of society. But on a global level they become positive slogans for you.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:44 pm (UTC)

It's not contradictory. Groups can do things that individuals can't. I'm the total opposite of Margaret Thatcher, who famously declared that there was "no such thing as society". For me, societies are the really important units, the motors of human achievement.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)

As you have pointed out, America has a tremendous presence in the Japanese film market. But when the Japanese person chooses to consume a domestic movie rather than an American one, is that person "choosing difference" by viewing a movie made by the (long-time) minority in the market, or "choosing sameness" by viewing a movie made by someone of his own cultural background?

Or is it not a matter of difference/sameness at all, but simply a question of who can provide a certain kind of entertaining movie at the right price, and that the domestic films have become similar enough to their American counterparts to reduce the need for imports in general?

We know which one you'd prefer--you'd like the Japanese people to be "choosing difference," consciously rejecting America. I don't know that we can say that with any confidence.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)

I didn't just talk about choosing difference, but of the staging of difference against a backdrop of homogeneity. I think that is quite a good picture of what's going on here. Let's take the film which some think kickstarted the hoga bubble, Bayside Shakedown. It sounds pretty similar to a US cop show. But there are significant differences. The "bayside" here refers to Toyko Bay, not San Francisco. There's also much play on the non-dramatic and non-lethal nature of Tokyo policework (no firearms, for instance):

"Bayside Shakedown takes place in the fictional Wangan Precinct of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Unlike most police dramas which tend to focus on action and car chases, Bayside Shakedown depicted police work as office politics under a slightly different environment, complete with bureaucratic red tape, lethargic civil servants, bosses more interested in playing golf and saving face than solving crimes, interference from politicians, and conflict between Police Headquarters and the local officers (one of the major themes throughout the series). In fact, like their real world counterparts in Japan, the officers depicted in Bayside Shakedown are not permitted to carry firearms except during major emergencies (which, in the life of the local precinct officer at Wangan, almost never happens) .
The main character of the series is a young detective named Shunsaku Aoshima (played by Yuji Oda in the TV and film adaptations). Aoshima originally worked as a corporate salesperson, but decided to join the police department out of idealism expecting a life of adventure and excitement. Once inside, he was completely underwhelmed by life on the police force, which he found to be almost the same as corporate life. Throughout the series, he tries to balance his ideals of what police work should be with the bureaucratic reality, often with humorous results."

This is very much what I'd call "hub and spoke difference" (ie the reference point is a US norm). But I think we'll see more "point to point difference" emerging in future (and in the present, point to point difference is more likely to be seen in niche films).

I also think your argument about domestic films succeeding by beating the US films at their own game is, if it's right at all, only a transitional state. The bigger picture here is the Pew Attitudes stuff, and how much a cultural export like cinema depends on a generally positive image of the exporting nation.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)

I'm not so sure that political resentment translates into shunning the cultural product. The reverse, resentment transformed into fascination, seems more the case - i.e. French left-wing intellectuals fawning over Hollywood. I'll bet U.S. action movies go down well in the Middle East.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)

It's interesting to compare Japanese and South Korean domestic film consumption trends since 2000. In 2000, both nations had a 32% domestic box office share. In 2005, South Korea had increased that to 57% and Japan to 41%. Now Japan has broken through to "majority share" (53.2% in 2006). I wouldn't be surprised if South Korea has gone over 60% local.

This does refute suggestions that this is a purely Japanese "mood of national narcissism", or that it's merely due to a few local hits, or flukes. This is also the general trend in France, the UK and elsewhere, even if the figures haven't been quite so spectacular.


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jasongtokyo
jasongtokyo
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
Korea & Japan

Hi,

It's difficult to compare the Japanese and Korean film industries as they're different in so many ways. Korea's domestic boom was in part thanks to "The Screen Quota System" that required theaters to show local films 106-146 days out of the year.

That quota was recently chopped in half, much to the chagrin of many in the industry there. Hollywood of course didn't like this "uneven" playing field and wanted more access to screens. Many on the Korean side felt betrayed (with famous actors and directors staging protests, even at last year's Cannes). The government claimed the industry had matured to a point where it could survive financially and culturally without such a high level of protection. They're in the middle of seeing if that's true. There's was a good overview of the situation on Kaiju Shakedown (RIP!) early last year:
http://www.kaijushakedown.com/2006/01/goodbye_korea_s.html

Korea is not my area of knowledge, but you can learn a lot on koreanfilm.org, run by Darcy Paquet, who's a major expert.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)

The situation in China is rather unclear. When China signed up to the WTO it was forced to open up its film market and accept 20 foreign films per year into Chinese cinemas. However, tickets to the cinema are expensive in China, and there's a huge pirate DVD and VCD trade.

Officials say Chinese films are currently taking over 50% of Chinese box office. However, as this Variety article insinuates, the government may be capping the profits of even those American films which are let in, terminating their runs early, and trying to limit their success to give the national cinema a chance to catch up.

As one Chinese official put it back in 2001, "Can we contend with foreign warships with boats?"


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jasongtokyo
jasongtokyo
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)

Glad the film situation here brightened your day.

Thanks for linking to my blog, but the post with all the key final numbers as released by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan is here:

http://jasongray.blogspot.com/2007/01/greatest-japanese-box-office-story-ever.html


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)

Johnny Depp is a veritable God here, but #1-ranked Pirates (and #2 ranked Da Vinci Code) excepted, this year was unimpressive. Aside from Spider Man, Japanese audiences have limited interest in American superheroes like Superman and X-Men. M:i:III only made half of what the second film did. And when an animation style doesn't appeal, as in the case of Cars, it tanks no matter how huge the P&A budget is".

i'm pleasantly pleased that my tastes in mainstream hollywood film line up pretty good with Japanese people's.

Could this possibly have to do with a global shift where a) with HD video, it's possible to make movies that look like 35mm for a hundredth or thousandth of the cost, and b) there's a deep appreciation everywhere now for the amateur, raw-feed look of non-professional video, to the point where you've got shows like Arrested Development aping that camera style, at L.A. union rates? The entertainment playing field is getting so leveled right now it's EXHILARATING!!!!


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)

oh actually i should clarify i'm not really into the pirates or da vinci movies, although i like johnny depp, spider-man and animated movies that don't senselessly belch exhaust in my face.


ReplyThread Parent
fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)

related to points a and b is a flattening of what it means to be animated vs. live action. Now that everything's a bunch of pixels, all the cost-cutting, transcendentally beautiful shortcuts that make anime such a vibrant art form can be applied to live action films as well. don't like the graininess of that shot, because the resolution is too low, or the lights weren't powerful enough? add some shimmering cg googly eyes!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)

Watch it, he'll cast Robin Williams as you if you start saying things like that!

The big question is, will the Chinese see "Affected Provincial 3: The Takedown" as a threat to their way of life?


ReplyThread Parent

mandyrose
mandyrose
Wed, Mar. 28th, 2007 03:51 am (UTC)

Baz Luhrman needs to stay away from everything. I mean it. I went to see Moulin Rouge when I was 7 months pregnant, and my daughter turned away from the noise, inside my body. Yeeaarrghh.


ReplyThread Parent

maybeimdead
maybeimdead
Maybe I'm Dead
Wed, Mar. 28th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)

http://www.nd.edu/~olizardo/papers/globcultsoc.pdf


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Mar. 28th, 2007 10:04 am (UTC)

While I don't think that paper refutes the imperialism model, I do think it makes a good case for a dialectical reading of it: that Hollywood's dialectic with independent and national cinemas is a productive one.

"Instead of homogeneity of consumption, we find diversity of interpretation; instead of a decline in the production of domestic local culture, we find increasing “creolization” and a revitalization of folk cultures under globalization."

This is quite close to my idea about Japan's uniqueness, for instance, being the enactment of difference against a backdrop of global homogeniety. I do think, though, that this is a rather undesireable hub-and-spoke type of difference, the kind of difference we have in a unipolar world. And I think that this century we will see a tranisition to point to point difference, multipolar difference. And that that entails the demise of the Hollywood we now have.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Mar. 28th, 2007 11:31 am (UTC)

Box office?? That's just one facet of the entertainment pie considering the dominance of home video and everyone with sense looking toward digital delivery. On an outsider's analysis of Japanese society and media blog like Marxy's I can see the desire to make these country comparisons to draw some conclusion about, but as I've pointed out in the past on his blog from time to time. The demographic of the Japanese movie theatre ticket buying audience itself is sufficiently different enough from the demographics in the bloggers country that any national vs. international conclusions drawn present a skewed picture. What must be taken into account is who actually buys the very expensive tickets (mostly young and old women with a greater than average degree of disposable time and income) at the no longer commonplace movie theaters in Japan and how placing movies in theaters can be but isn't always a loss-leader for release in another medium neither a driving factor to produce a feature or a requirement.

-ndkent


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