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Monday , September 27 2021

Japan’s ‘new Miyazaki’ churns hit – ‘Please don’t see my ‘Your Name’ animated blockbuster’

This file photo taken on Dec 8, 2016, shows Japanese director Makoto Shinkai posing during a photo session in Paris. (AFP)

PARIS, Dec 27, (Agencies): Makoto Shinkai has a problem, a big problem. His mystical teenage body-swap movie “Your Name” has become such a massive hit it’s beginning to worry him.

“It’s not healthy,” the boyish director told AFP. “I don’t think any more people should see it.”

Every week it gets closer to being the biggest Japanese animated film of all time.

And now there’s talk of Oscars. “I really hope it doesn’t win,” he added.

It would be funny if Shinkai wasn’t so in earnest about getting off the promotional circuit and back to work.

He just wants to get on with his next story about teched-up Japanese teens.

But the little animated film has become a runaway cultural juggernaut in Asia, and now it’s winning awards in the United States and Europe.

One in seven Japanese have already paid to see its brilliantly plotted supernatural love story about a boy and a girl who exchange bodies as a comet is about to hit the Earth.

Inevitably it has led to 43-year-old Shinkai being called the “new Miyazaki” — the natural successor to the now retired master animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose 2001 classic “Spirited Away” is still the most successful Japanese film ever.


But the comparison makes the diminutive Shinkai even more uncomfortable.

“Of course I’m happy when people mention his name and mine in the same breath. It’s like a dream. But I know they are overpraising ‘Your Name’ because I am absolutely not at Miyazaki’s level.

“Honestly, I really don’t want Miyazaki to see it because he will see all its flaws.”

Despite the rave reviews, Shinkai insists his film is not as good as it could have been — a refreshingly novel approach for the man who is supposed to be promoting it.

“There were things that we couldn’t do,” he said, explaining that his team of animators led by one of Miyazaki’s greatest disciples, Masahi Ando, wanted to keep working on it but with money running out he had to cry stop.

“For me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. Two years was not enough.”

But Shinkai knew he had a hit on his hands when he showed it in Los Angeles before its Tokyo premiere. “The audience laughed then they sobbed… I had drawn a graph when I was making it about how the audience might react, and it was just like that.

“Obviously I was happy to see it worked but at the same time I was afraid that it had worked too well. I said to myself, ‘Damn, maybe I overdid it’.”

More than anything, the movie’s motor is the comedy Shinkai extracts from the hilarious gender swap set up, with its running gag of the horrified boy waking up in a girl’s body.

“I wanted to talk about the way we see sexuality now but in a funny way,” he said.

The ying and yang doesn’t end there. The story is set between the beautiful mountainous Nagano region where Shinkai grew up and Tokyo’s hyper modern megapolis.


It also plays on the tension of teenagers desperate to quit their small towns for the big city yet who are still entranced by the beauty of age-old Japanese traditions.

“It is a film about memory, but also about losing memories,” said Shinkai, who adapted the story from his own novel. “It’s about individual memory and collective memory, the forgetting of a certain morality and sense of tradition.”

While he is resigned to the fact that the comparison with Miyazaki will haunt him forever, he insisted that they are very different.

To prove it he commissioned the Japanese J-rock group Radwimps — whose music you could see giving the old master tinnitus — to do the soundtrack.

Shinkai is also at pains to point out that although “the chemistry between Ando” and his other lead artist Masayoshi Tanaka was key to the film’s success, his team is no reboot of Miyazaki’s famous Studio Ghibli.

“I have never really sensed any of Miyasaki’s artistic influence on Ando. If there is an influence it’s more in his attitude to his work,” he said.

“When Ando arrives in the studio he picks up his pen even before he gets a cup of tea, and he stays seated until the very last train at night.

“He hardly eats, just nibbles at little balls of rice at his desk. He hardly ever goes to the toilet.

“When I see him I see a monk in a monastery, and I say to myself that is perhaps how the people at Studio Ghibli work.”


LOS ANGELES: Disney India’s “Dangal,” starring Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan, has revitalized a film industry reeling under the after effects of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization program.

“Dangal”, a rustic woman-empowerment wrestling drama directed by Nitesh Tiwari, released in India on Dec. 23, in the Christmas holiday frame. It collected $15.7 million on its opening weekend and a further $8 million overseas. Its $6.2 million collection on Sunday is the highest single day score ever in Indian cinema history.

It played on 4,400 screens in India in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu versions. Overseas it played on over 1,000 screens in 40 territories. Its gross figure may be revised upwards to $9 million.

The numbers should come as welcome relief for the Indian film industry. On Nov. 8, Modi announced that all currency notes of the 1000 and 500 rupee denominations would cease to be legal tender and would have to be exchanged for new notes or deposited into bank accounts by the end of 2016. This meant that 86% of all currency circulating in India became worthless overnight unless exchanged or deposited by the deadline.

The reasons cited by the Modi government for the drastic move range from bringing hoarded untaxed income back into the banking system to cutting off funding sources for terrorists and even to making India a digital, cashless economy.

Some 8,500 of India’s 12,000 screens are single screen theatres and these were the worst hit as tickets are usually paid for in cash. Newly cashless punters were more concerned about getting their worthless banknotes exchanged rather than going to the movies.

Single screen cinemas lost approximately 60% of their business, according to industry estimates, and some 700 of them have shut down across the country. Single screens account for some 45% of Indian box office revenue.

The first casualty was “Rock On 2” that released on Nov. 11, three days after demonetization kicked in. The $7 million budgeted film managed to recover $2.5 million at the box office. Subsequent releases like “Befikre,” “Dear Zindagi” and “Kahaani 2” immediately changed their strategy and reduced print supplies to single screens. They concentrated on the higher-priced and higher yielding multiplexes and managed decent box office numbers.

Film production also slowed down across the country as producers ran out of bank notes to pay daily wage technicians who are paid in cash.

With “Dangal” drawing punters back to cinemas, the film industry appears to be limping back to normal, and many ATMs now have limited amounts of cash, but the long term effects of demonetization, whether positive or negative, will only be apparent in the new year when the dust has settled.

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