In this series, Yu Kawa Shizuka and Ryunosuke Goji discuss the meaning of watching Ghibli works on screen in the age of streaming. Here is the fourth and last part.
MI : In the U. S., HBO-Max has started the service of streaming Ghibli works. Interestingly, on the day before the HBO-Max announcement, Gkids, the Ghibli’s theatrical distributor, made an announcement saying there would be no plan for streaming of the Ghibli works. Gkids presents the Ghibli Festival every year in the U. S. to promote theatrical presentation of the Ghibli works. This position may have to do with its announcement.
Then, let us look at the situation in Japan. In Japan, the fans usually watch the Ghibli films on discs, and TV viewing is as popular as ever. It appears sharing TV viewing reactions through #NowWatching kind of SNS live-casting is more prevalent than ever. However, theatrical presentation of the Ghibli films is very limited. I think the theatrical presentation is more popular and frequent overseas.
What do you think?
RG : Ghibli, as a production company, has two honest intentions, I think. One, all the money and talent should go to the film production. Two, it anticipates people actually going to see the film in the theater. I think, then the secondary distribution of its works, such as video, DVD, Blu-ray and streaming will remain secondary.
I think the studio always has maintained the attitude, sort of very apparent attitude to the outside world, to make the film production first and making the money second. This would be very popular in the Japanese society where it is virtuous to separate the art creation and pursue the profit.
I think the passive attitude toward distribution of its works as commodity products, as “contents to be consumed”, is very deeply connected to the identity of the studio. This attitude will continue until Miyazaki’s new film is completed, or as long as he lives, at least within Japan.
The Japanese audience who passionately follows the Ghibli works understand the creative ideas and opinions of the director or his mental conflict during the production in a very delicate manner, though with varying degrees. This is because the Ghibli has allowed TV cameras and other media in the studio to co-produce documentaries about their creative process. The fans follow these documentaries quite passionately.
The fans are very well familiar with how Miyazaki works: he drives his Citroen 2CV to his work, arrives at his office and puts his bento his wife cooked on his shelf. These documentaries reveal the creator’s conflict and pleasure, his daily relationships with other people, and other trifle things. These are first-class documents to understand his philosophy. But also it reminds us of a very basic thing: these animation films are made by humans. These mundane facts may escape us when we are watching the films.
From these experiences, the majority of the Japanese audience pays deep respect to the studio as a professional art group and feels intimate familiarity like their own relatives at the same time. This also makes us feel that Ghibli is a bit different from the other studios. If Ghibli started a streaming service domestically and launched a big promotion, the fans would feel disappointed as if they had lost something very precious.
As long as the studio survives as a place where Miyazaki creates his films, I think that is good enough. How to present their works is as important as how to create the works sometimes, and should be consistent.
Toshio Suzuki, Ghibli producer, often talks about Japan’s gradual descent into poverty to the level of the post-war period. And he thinks the overseas, especially Southeast and East Asia, are very exciting in terms of the film.
That is, he thinks it is probably difficult to anticipate something new from Japan in the field of animation films. So, it is not particularly unnatural to start streaming their works rather experimentally but not so enthusiastically, and screening the films theatrically to provide real experience.
We feel this sense of stagnation, decay not only in the field of animation but also in a wide variety of areas. But it is not a discussion of what’s wrong with Japan or anything. We should think from a wider variety of viewpoints, variety of places and variety of people.
Even if we lose a lot of good creators overseas and we only see backward creations domestically, I don’t think that’s not really a matter to people who create or practice. The important thing is to do it actually …
YKS : The Miyazaki works had never been screened officially in mainland China until last year. Under such circumstances, people did enjoy watching these works through PCs, smartphones, or TV sets. That is for sure. In Japan, the rather self-serving repeated airing of the Ghibli works on “Friday Matinee TV Theater” has become prevalent and the VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray viewing has surpassed the theatrical viewing in terms of its market size. The Ghibli works have been repeatedly consumed in Japan.
On the other hand, we definitely see resurgence of theatrical screenings of animation films in smaller revues and multiplexes. I think the number of the animation film audience has increased and the box-office takings have become substantial.
The word “Balse” in “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” has become so popular in live-tweeting during TV airing and its popularity has accelerated to the point of absurdity. A creation is never consumed in a way its creator hoped. People never appreciate the work based on the director’s intent. The new way of appreciation always contains the seed that grows in the new era.
Now, for smartphones and tablets, display technologies have greatly advanced, capable of handling high definition videos, and new animation languages are adapting to such technological advancement. I think even in the era of “Totoro”, the “disc” market was essential to Ghibli’s business to cover production costs and raise budgets for new projects. Maybe Miyazaki himself had tried to resist the business of such consumption cycles in the past. But we, the consumers who repeatedly consume their products, might have not noticed such affairs. I don’t say this under negative light; It is just the way things are, I think.
Before we celebrate the superiority of theatrical appreciation of Miyazaki’s works, we may have to think about the fact that his works have this complex dilemma embedded within themselves, regardless of Miyazaki’s intentions. Though we need to carefully watch how it plays out in North America, this streaming service is probably one of the most strategic marketing of the Ghibli studio. I am very interested to know how Miyazaki feels about it.
Recently, I visited Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Despite it being on weekdays, there were many visitors, and it appears, many of them were of oversea group tourists. I think maybe they have more visitors from overseas in the Ghibli Museum, as we have an influx of tourists from all over the world recently. I guess, among these visitors, there must have been people who had seen “Totoro” or “Spirited Away” in the theaters in China. In the Museum, there is a theater called “Dosei-Za”. There, you can watch short films produced by the Ghibli studio.
In this theater, the shorts are presented several times an hour, and I saw ”Mizugumo Monmon (水グモもんもん, 2006)” that day. While I was waiting in the line to enter the theater, I was with this group of visitors from a variety of countries. I felt anticipation, high spirits among these people, and I think that is the most ideal thing that can happen to entertainment experience. The audience reaction after the show was also filled with passions. Visiting the Ghibli Museum, watching the short film in the Dosei-za, that may be the one-time experience in lifetime. To such an experience, what is the best environment? What films are the best to showcase? These short films are only shown at the Ghibli Museum, including the “Boro, the Caterpillar”.
Some people may criticize such an attitude as too ideal, or too exclusive. Such an attitude may draw various criticism. But we can understand such an attitude as an alternative possibility to this age. I think Ghibli’s decision may be one of the many answers. So then, it invites another question: Miyazaki is animating characters, weak, tiny existence, like a caterpillar, or a water spider, too insignificant for us to notice in daily life. These characters are directly opposite to the big, powerful physical existence like Ohmu, Moro, Totoro, or big planes. I wonder how Miyazaki uses the dynamic range of visuals and audio for these tiny existence. That is another question I want to examine.
In the recent interview with Huffington Post Japan, Toshio Suzuki talked about Ghibli’s streaming business with Netflix.
Suzuki said he persuaded Miyazaki to accept this deal to raise enough money for his new production.
Suzuki also said “In the first place, Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t understand what video streaming (like Netflix) is very well. He doesn’t use PCs, or smartphones. I don’t think he has the faintest idea about “digitally delivering the video content”. So I conned him, so to speak.”
Yu Kawa Shizuka
Musician. Photographer. Founder of music label cucuruss. Yu Kawa Shizuka’s music explores the possibility of a speech synthesizer, and de/reconstructs the sonic boundaries of text/speech/sound. His recent project is “Armadilllllllidium vulgare”. His latest work, “minamiarupusunotennensui”, is available here.
Music: bandcamp, soundcloud
Photography: note, tumblr
Artist (Oil Painting). Recent exhibitions include: “~” (Solo exhibition, Youkobo Art Space, Tokyo, 2018), “Pangea on the Screen” (Group exhibition, TAV Gallery, Tokyo, 2020).
The header image: Photography by Yu Kawa Shizuka.
All the images are courtesy of Yu Kawa Shizuka. Unauthorized use of the images in this post is prohibited.