Monday, August 16, 2010

China and Animation

The Middle Kingdom lusts after Japan's slot in the animation universe.

When it comes to animation, China wants to be the next Japan.

Long envious of its Asian neighbor’s success with anime, China is nurturing homegrown cartoonists and animators and encouraging them to produce films of their own. With the blessing of the country’s Ministry of Culture, provinces and municipalities are staging contests, festivals and conferences, all aimed at getting homegrown talent more exposure -- and some badly needed attention on the international stage.

The holy grail is theatrical, TV and especially home entertainment distribution contracts in the United States that played a key role in helping anime break out of its native Japan and become a true international phenomenon in the early 2000s. ...

Of course, to become a worldwide phee-nom, one needs infrastructure (not a problem), a flexible, high-energy talent pool (also probably not a major deal), and product that will sell like gangbusters around the world. (We'll see how that works out.)

There's no question that China has a monster internal market to consume its own animated output, but how well it does as A) an international animation sub-contractor, and B) an international player producing home-grown theatrical and television cartoons that sell like hotcakes in Dubai, Denver, Denmark and St. Petersberg remains to be seen.

American features and television shows have been globally dominant since the 1920s. Much of the world has less than warm and fuzzy feelings about the United States, but most of it buys into American culture, otherwise Sly Stallone -- now at retirement age -- wouldn't be topping the international box office. For China to become a dominant player, it will need to sell its national sensiblity as well or better than the United States (with its cultural salad bowl) has done over the past century.

And that's a tall order. Even Japanese anime, as successful as it's been, is still pretty much a niche product in the world marketplace.


Anonymous said...

As someone who lives in Korea, I see China has a similar problem to Korea in the fact that their stories are usually "too asian" for western audiences.

Whether it's about the numerous retelling of the fox with nine tails that transforms into a woman, or every other animation with some sort of martial art, these stories are good for their home audiences, but do not travel well when released internationally.

I know a lot has to do with trying to promote themselves and their culture, but sometimes the story gets a little lost in the process. They need to be less proud and precious about their culture.

Where the Japanese have had great success, is in the art of telling the story. Look at any Miyazaki film for instance, and you will obviously find traces of "Japanese-ness" in some of these films, but it does not overpower the story, and the same goes for many other films from Japan.

China and Korea, while having a strong and extremely talented workforce, have a lot to learn about the types of stories to tell if they truly want to succeed on the world stage.

Anonymous said...

I know a lot has to do with trying to promote themselves and their culture, but sometimes the story gets a little lost in the process. They need to be less proud and precious about their culture.

Think that Jackie Chan Monkey King movie that came out a year or two ago was the result of some US/China film cooperative...Meaning, China, being a culturally-responsible Communist country, felt they had to make yet one more film that "explained" their traditional heritage to a curious West.

Japan, OTOH, started out doing folktales in their proto 60's/70's animation, and then moved on to what they knew best: Robots, spaceships, and other indulgent kids' fantasies of an ambitious culture.
Japan basically didn't care where or if their stuff was being imported, had their own fun for capitalist profit, and later found their US audience by accident, when those audiences liked the same things.

...Which is why China (as opposed to the HK that gave us John Woo and Stephen Chow) will never "beat" Japan at anime:
They're too responsible to be irresponsible, too repressed to have fun, and too state-supported to go after a comic-book profit.

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