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Netflix aims to increase its appeal to Japanese filmmakers as the streaming giant engineers a pivot towards local production and feature movies, in particular. Theatrical releases of Netflix’ Japanese films are among the options.
The company’s initiative was this week highlighted by the signing of iconic “Shoplifters” director Kore-eda Hirokazu to direct a big budget feature for the streamer as well as a series on which Kore-eda will be showrunner and co-director. Titles were not announced in either case.
“We have only announced Kore-eda at the moment, but we are already developing things with a lot of great creators, legendary filmmakers and young filmmakers. It’s very diverse,” Sakamoto Kaata, Netflix VP of Japanese content told Variety. He was speaking on the sidelines of the two-day Netflix Japan Festival 2021 in which the company this week provided updates, release dates and introductions of new shows covering a total of 50 projects.
“We span series, films, and unscripted TV. But [the pivot to film is because] very simply lots of audiences love watching films,” said Sakamoto. He positions the company’s Japanese film strategy as being in line with its production and distribution of films by leading U.S. names, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Kore-eda, whose films have been optioned for remake by Spielberg, underlines that association with quality.
Earlier this week, analysis firm Media Partners Asia said in a report that new and library anime titles drive almost half of Netflix’s current consumption in Japan.
Sakamoto suggests that the company also offers Japanese filmmakers a means to overcome the distribution problems that many face. Given the size and structure of the local market, the Japanese industry historically prioritizes local concerns over international sales. Japanese theatrical releases of non-studio titles, non animation titles can take many months of build-up and yet still be limited.
“Films going to festivals and then finally go into theaters [is the traditional way]. But Netflix has global viewing reach. That is very attractive for so many creators,” Sakamoto said. “We have many schemes. Some may be co-productions. Some we will own [as originals]. It depends on the project and story.”
Nor is Netflix ruling out theatrical releases, something that has been a controversial topic for the streamer in other countries, including France and the U.S. “Theatrical releases are possible for some projects. We will do day-and-date. But our main focus will remain our Netflix service.
Japanese films on the current slate include: “We Couldn’t Become Adults,” directed by Mori Yoshihiro which is immediately available and the previously announced “Asakusa Kid” about Beat Takeshi (aka Takeshi Kitano) which uploads from Dec. 9, 2021.
“Love Like the Falling Petals,” from Toho Studios, will be available from March 2022. Directed by Fukagawa Yoshihiro, the film is an adaptation of a best-selling romance novel “Sakura no you na boku no koibito” by Keisuke Uyama, that caught fire on TikTok.
Another romancer, without a release date, is “A Blueprint for Love.” The film is a remake of Korean hit film “Architecture 101” and will be made with a mixed Japanese and Korean cast. To date the only cast disclosed is Yamashita Tomohisa.
Production is underway on “Once Upon a Crime,” an animated feature based on the novel Akazukin, Tabi no Tochu de Shitai to Deau by Aito Aoyagi, in which Little Red Riding Hood becomes a detective. It is directed by Fukada Yuichi with production credits going to Credus Inc. and a production committee.
Earlier this year, Netflix announced the live-action feature film of Sunrise’s “Gundam,” with Legendary Entertainment producing, Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“Kong: Skull Island”) directing and Brian K. Vaughan penning the script.