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Disney+ Challenges the World with Original Japanese Action Movies

Internet video distribution service Disney+which launched in Japan in 2020, began distributing live-action original dramas produced in Japan in September.

Walt Disney Japan Executive Director Gaku Narita, who is also in charge of original content production, enthused, “Our goal is to bring great stories from Japan to the world using the storytelling DNA that Disney has grown.

Each of the company’s brands has numerous global hits, including “Frozen” for Disney, “Toy Story” for Pixar and “Spiderman” for Marvel.

Narita explains the reason for creating unique Japanese works by explaining, “Japan has an exceptional need for local (domestic) content. Since there is such a need, we want to provide better works to meet this need.

The original live-action movies currently announced are:

  • “Because I will forget everything”, a love story with Hiroshi Abe (expected broadcast in September),
  • “Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t.: Sequel” (coming out this fall), which depicts a college sumo club in danger of being shut down again, 30 years after the 1992 hit film “Sumo Do, Sumo Don ‘t.”, and
  • “Gannibal” (to be released this winter), a horror film set in a closed village society.

Although details of other works, including titles, have not been announced, works in production are said to number in the dozens.

Gaku Narita Executive Director of Walt Disney Japan. (©Sankei)

Combine the unique with the universal

Although the three films are of different genres, Narita cites their commitment to storytelling as a common characteristic, explaining, “I’m extremely particular about what kind of stories are universal to the world and how we can connect with people. .” Taking “Gannibal” as an example, he adds:

Village communities and customs passed down from generation to generation are sometimes unique to Japan. But they can also be found in many other parts of the world. I think it’s very interesting to see a mix of themes that are both unique and universal.

Its insistence on creating stories that people around the world can relate to while reflecting Japan’s unique society and culture is based on the fact that The Walt Disney Company has been cultivating storytelling DNA since its founding in 1923. Narita understands its importance as part of the business.

In works that enthrall people around the world, the stories of people and characters are told well, regardless of worldview or setting. Disney has followed this approach for a long time, Narita says, noting that it will continue to be applied to Japanese productions as well.

This strong commitment is also evident in his interactions during the planning phase of a work. When a project comes to him from outside the company, he always asks: “What kind of story do you want to tell? The reason, he says, is that “if a creator thinks something is really interesting and wants to tell the story, it has latent power. That’s what I want to focus on. »

“Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t!” release scheduled for fall 2022. (©2022 Disney)

Potential of Japanese productions

While previous live-action productions in Japan were mostly driven by film companies and TV stations, in recent years major overseas video distribution services have stepped onto the scene. Netflix and Prime Video operated by Amazon, among others, offer original Japanese content one after the other.

Regarding Japan’s potential as a production base, Narita says:

Many original ideas and stories that surprised people around the world were created mainly in manga and anime. However, the production environment for live-action films has been very limited.

By having friendly competition between streaming companies, including our own, we will be able to add resources, including those previously owned by individuals, to the great original concepts. Since we can provide resources of a world standard, we will be able to create works that have never been seen before, and I think it will spread quickly around the world.

In the world of animation, Japan has produced world-class hits. In live-action films, however, Japan currently lags behind South Korea, which has produced films such as Parasite (2019), the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, and squid game (2021) a drama series that caused a stir around the world.

“Viewing habits are different, and Japanese dramas are unlikely to suddenly become popular with overseas audiences,” Narita says. “It will take a little longer before the ‘surprisingly interesting’ effect of Japanese dramas hits the rest of the world, and for people to realize that it is indeed interesting.”

Regarding the global market, he says, “Yet a film can change people’s perspectives. We must keep this in mind at all times.

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(Read the article in Japanese on this link.)

Author: Masahiko Morimoto