Found this interesting article from the Daily Yomiuri, written by Japanamerica author Roland Kelts, about the positive changes happening in cross pollination between Hollywood and the world of anime and manga. In it is an interesting quote from an Imagi employee working on the upcoming animated Astro Boy movie about how feedback from Japan changed their vision of the movie for the better.
"We showed a preview to some focus groups in Tokyo," said the Imagi producer of Astro Boy, "and the results were disastrous. Our Astro Boy was too snarky, too mature. They wanted to reclaim the original character's innocence."You can read "Hollywood's new respect for anime sources" on the Daily Yomiuri Online website or read an archived copy right here by clicking the link below.
SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Hollywood's new respect for anime sources
Roland Kelts / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
This March, I had dinner in Los Angeles with two producers from U.S. animation studios making American versions of anime originals. One, a Chinese-American, was from Imagi, the company working on next year's computer-graphic Astro Boy, a film based on Osamu Tezuka's 1960s classic. The other, a Filipino-American, was with Gonzo Digimation Holdings, the company that produces Afro Samurai, an original manga turned international anime series featuring the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.
Both producers were jovial, if anxious about the ongoing decline in U.S. anime DVD sales. But they were also quite keen to share their experiences of working with their counterparts in Japan.
"We showed a preview to some focus groups in Tokyo," said the Imagi producer of Astro Boy, "and the results were disastrous. Our Astro Boy was too snarky, too mature. They wanted to reclaim the original character's innocence."
The staffer on Afro Samurai said this: "We originally thought the collaboration would be, you know, 50-50, between Japan and the U.S. But, to be honest, the final product is more 80-20, with the Japanese input at 80. They knew what they were doing, and we didn't want to screw it up."
In both cases, smart young Asian-Americans were conceding that they needed the Japanese input to make their projects succeed.
This was news to me. In my book Japanamerica, I cite several cases of Japanese artists or producers mishandling (or failing to handle) their intellectual properties once they left the archipelago. Even the original Pokemon franchise first funneled its millions of profit dollars into the bank accounts of its U.S. distributor, a company called 4Kids.
The story was painfully simple: Japanese producers would receive a phonebook-sized contract from the United States, couldn't read all the legalese in English, but recognized a minimal up-front payment in the millions--and would sign away all of their subsidiary rights. I wrote about the absurdity of Japan's losses, wincing as I did so.
A week before the U.S. elections this month, NHK aired a program about recent encounters between anime companies and Hollywood studios called, fittingly, Anime vs. Hollywood.
Included in the show were scenes from the forthcoming Astro Boy movie and Afro Samurai, promoting both projects in the relatively somber tones of a documentary.
And guess what? There was David Bowers, director of the Hollywood Astro Boy film, traveling to Tokyo to seek the approval of Yoshihiro Shimizu, executive producer of Tezuka Productions, for Imagi's latest version of Tezuka's creation.
There, too, was Gonzo's Shinichiro Ishikawa, palling around in Los Angeles with Samuel L. Jackson, laughing and working hard on the newest version of Afro Samurai, which will also include the voice of newly signed Lucy Liu, the Asian-American Charlie's Angel.
In other words: Japanese producers were shown flying to the United States to control their products, and Americans were seen in Tokyo, seeking the approval of the original artists.
The scenes of mutual engagement and respect between anime and Hollywood felt groundbreaking, especially given the history of willful ignorance on both sides. Combined with the comments made by the two Asian-American producers in Los Angeles last spring, they produce a portrait of soft power finally working its mojo--motivating people to work together across national borders largely because they want to.
When Barack Hussein Obama, another hybrid American, was elected president of the United States last week, I and a lot of my friends were deeply moved, regardless of party affiliation, political slant or even passport designation. Obama has a lot to live up to, and an awful lot of hard work to do. But we were stirred by the mere suggestion of a 21st-century America that might reach out to others in a spirit of collaboration, as he has promised to do, seeking advice and counsel and offering strength and support rather than unilateral force and coercion--especially since the threat of declining fortunes long facing the anime industry is now being shared by the rest of us.
Kelts is a Tokyo University lecturer who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S." (www.japanamericabook.com), now available in an updated paperback edition. His column appears twice a month.
(Nov. 14, 2008)