Sunday, July 31, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato (2010) and a rant on how delays are costing film distributors money

This big screen adaption of the classic anime that is best known in the US as Star Blazers is a great deal of fun for anyone who has ever seen the original series. The film premièred in Japan last December and was recently released on DVD in Japan at the end of June. As of right now the US release is still being negotiated (see below).

The story has the earth in dire peril from an alien invasion. The Gamillas have managed to destroy most of the earth’s forces and are working on poisoning the planet with deadly radiation. With one chance at saving the earth left, and no ships available the once mighty battleship Yamato is pulled up from the bottom of a dried up sea and retrofitted to be able to fly in space. It’s then sent off to Iskandar to get a device which will remove the deadly radiation.

This often visually sumptuous film had the hairs standing up on my arms with how good it all looks. The film is a wonderful recreation of the classic animated series in live action terms. If you loved the old show odds are you’re going to find something to get excited about in this loving tribute to a classic science fiction series.

Any trouble with the film comes in that the film tries to compress a television series which ran for 78 episodes plus had a spin off feature film into roughly two and a half hours long. While the film moves along at a good clip and tells you it’s version of the story, there is a sense, at times, that we are missing something and that we’re not really getting to know the characters. More than once I had the sense that we were marching through events faster than was healthy.

Compression problems aside I really liked this film a great deal and I wasn’t into the film more than a matter of minutes, when I realized that perhaps I should have waited for the eventual US release of the film in order to see this on the big screen.

This is coming to theaters in the US...or so I've been told and so I've read...

To be honest, I’m really annoyed with the people involved with getting this film onto US screens. Most people I know who saw the trailer for the film last year have been waiting rather impatiently for this to arrive. The trouble is I have no idea when this film will ever show up on these shore officially, which means those of us who want to see it have to resort to other means. In my case it means picking up the import DVD, for others it’s going to be a trip to Chinatown or somewhere else to pick up a grey or black market edition of the film.

If you don’t think that’s a problem, think again, as I experienced with several films at this years New York Asian and Tribeca Film Festivals several people I know would not go to see films at the festivals because they already saw them, or owned them on DVD. Why should they pay money to see movies they own on a big screen? The answer is because the experience is different, as I found out with Tsui Hark's Blade and Mr C found out with Reign of Assassins.

In all honesty, every day that the film remains unreleased in the US the audience for the film grows smaller by a couple of people...because many people will not "double dip".

I know that the guys at Subway Cinema had been trying to get the film for the NYAFF this year since it came out. I spoke with people from the festival several times between New Years and the start of the film festival and was told that the negotiations between the Japanese producer and the US distributor were delaying the ability to schedule a screening. Everyone wanted to show it, but until some release deal was struck it was a no go. They finally had to give up when it became clear that they wouldn’t have an answer in time to put the festival schedule together.

I know within my circle of friends the none appearance of the film was one disappointment of this years film festival.

The non-appearance of the film despite an audience for the film highlights a serious problem with getting Asian films seen in the US. Simply put if the core audiences don’t know the films are actually coming they will go through other means to see it, which means that by the time the film actually shows up officially in the US people may not go to see it or won’t buy it in US editions because they have it already. If no one goes or buys the US version a distributor has no reason to import the film.

I understand that Asian films are thought of as having only a small audience (especially outside of the genres-horror and action) but I don’t think that’s really the case. I think the audience is there they just aren't being handled correctly. I think they are simply allowed to wander off and find the films on their own because no one knows the films are actually coming. I think if people knew the films were coming the US audience would seem to grow.

If you want proof that speedy releases help a film succeed one only need look at the films of Jackie Chan. Simply consider that in the case of Jackie Chan’s out put the films that were NOT rereleases of old Asian films did infinitely better than those that were.

I won’t go into the fact that Asian films are often trimmed of some material which annoys most people who want to see the whole film.(I don’t care that John Woo cut his Red Cliff in half, he ruined a classic of cinema. Takashi Miike wounded his 13 Assassins and as for Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2, the entire end of the film was altered to be politically correct.)

I know the ideal solution of simultaneous release of films around the world is impractical; there are too many movies and too few screens. As for DVD releases you can only put out so many at one time. I know that. But at the same time if companies want to see a rise in profits they should make some effort to tell people when they might be seeing films from over seas in a timely fashion. I know I would hold off buying an import if I knew a film was coming here with in a reasonable time frame—or rather with in any time frame.(I wouldn't have bought an import of Jackie Chan's masterpiece Little Big Soldier had I known it was to get a long delayed US release next month)

While I'm ranting I have to applaud China Lion who is striving to do releases of films around the world at the same time as they are hitting screens in Asia (or if not the same time close enough to time and with enough advertising that you know it’s coming). To be certain the films they are releasing have been mixed in quality, but at least they are striving to get films that are more than just action and horror seen.

There is a market for the films, it just has to be nurtured…just ask the NYAFF.

As for Space Battleship Yamato, the film is coming to these shores, but I still don’t know when. If you can wait for the promised theatrical release I suggest you do so. If not the film is out officially on DVD in Japan and I’m sure its starting to show up in dark gray editions in Chinatown. How you see it it your own choice…

(I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it will show up around the time of New York Comicon and Anime Festival. In October- but that’s just a guess---then again the NYFF might snag it as a co-presentation with Subway Cinema)

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