There were two notable absences from the screenings at this year’s Scotland Love Anime – or rather, two notable presences at the London Film Festival. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie was There, the last feature film from Studio Ghibli, and The Boy and the Beast, the latest feature from Mamoru Hosoda, both made it onto the LFF roster instead. You might call this a victory all round – Hosoda’s films are often snatched by the LFF ahead of SLA, thereby leaving a slot in Scotland for less mainstream fare, as well as guaranteeing that Hosoda doesn’t sweep the Scottish Judges Award every year. But London’s programmers, as they are wont to do, are also snatching the most commercial and audience-friendly Japanese animated features. What are they going to programme next year?
Almost everybody in the anime business is tired of the “next Miyazaki” argument, in part because there can be no such thing. Hayao Miyazaki was a one-off, as was the synergy formed by his partnership with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. Moreover, the conditions that made their Studio Ghibli such a world-beater were also, in themselves, unique. The putative successors to Miyazaki are competing in an environment that is worlds away from the situation that saw Princess Mononoke rise to fame.
But concerns about who might be anime’s new poster-child aren’t just about the search for a new creative force. They are also all about money. For a Japanese movie to break even at the domestic box office, it has to be in the top twenty films released that year – a benchmark that only Studio Ghibli and a couple of long-running franchises (your Pokémon, your One Piece) could ever manage. A Studio Ghibli film (let’s be honest, a Miyazaki film), was a blue-chip investment, guaranteed to put bums on seats in Japan, and to monetise in foreign sales. Nobody else in Japan currently comes close, and that doesn’t just affect the likely enjoyment of family audiences. It affects festival programmers looking for something Japanese for their slates; it affects retailers planning how many feet of shelves to give to anime; and it affects distributors allotting budgets to those weird Japanese cartoons we keep hearing about. With Ghibli removed from the equation, the investment value of the entire anime medium drops by a significant factor, forcing everybody – distributors, retailers, and cinema owners, to work a lot harder to keep it in the public eye. So do your bit: go and see a Japanese animated film in a cinema this year… It’ll show up on someone’s balance sheet, and might make all the difference.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #143, 2015.