Well, I’d like to thank the Academy, but it turns out there’s no need, since this year’s best animated feature competition at the Oscars is Encanto, Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs the Machines and Raya and the Last Dragon.
The longlist was a different story. There were six Japanese animated features eligible for consideration there, but then again, the longlist is always a bit of a mug’s game, as everybody tries to cram as many titles in there as possible. So, it would have been nice, say, if Fortune Favours Lady Nikuko, which won the Judges’ Award at October’s Scotland Loves Anime, had made it over the penultimate hurdle. Considering Hollywood’s love of self-referentiality, I’m a little surprised there wasn’t a smidgen of love for Pompo the Cinephile, which is a gleeful celebration of movie-making.
And then there’s the giant, speaker-laden blue whale in the room, Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, which is sending critics worldwide into tailspins of praise, garnering five-star reviews in the mainstream press, and has been resoundingly ignored.
You may be wondering why anyone really cares. The Oscar-voters’ frames of reference are plainly blinkered beyond belief, limited to whatever their kids are watching and a sop to the woke Danes. But as Ichiro Itano once sagely said, there’s no medal for coming fourth. Come third, be an also-ran in the race, and you’re still part of the conversation, you’re part of the news cycle. People see you on the podium and wonder who you are, and maybe they Google you, and maybe they give your movie a try. I’m sure there’s no coincidence that Belle’s UK cinema run was timed to coincide with the shortlist announcement, in the hope that its distributors could slap the words “nominated for an Oscar” on the posters.
If you read this magazine, then you presumably have an interest in Japanese cartoons, and can probably name one or two that might have deserved an Oscar in the twenty years since Spirited Away took one home. The Oscars might be conservative and parochial, but so is much of the world’s movie-going audience, and that’s why we keep coming back with our fingers crossed, hoping that senpai will notice us.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #218, 2022.