Spending Spree

The scoop of 2009 in the British anime world was a very simple piece of information that has been lurking unnoticed in the public domain for months. It was Andrew Partridge of Beez Entertainment who broke the story, when he began poking around for possible sources of funding for anime. Putting a film on in cinemas costs a lot of money, because the cost of an actual, physical print is much more than you think. But Partridge discovered that the UK Film Council, a National Lottery organisation, would happily help obscure films reach wider audiences by contributing to advertising and/or the cost of making extra copies. House of Flying Daggers, for example, was given a hundred grand. Lust/Caution had a helping hand to the tune of twice as much. And much to everyone’s surprise, anime had got a little financial aid behind the scenes as well.

I realise that many readers probably aren’t yet taxpayers, but if you aren’t already you will be soon enough. You don’t even need a job. You pay tax on beer and fags, you pay arbitrary levies on airline travel, and then you get to gripe about it when the government gives it to the Wrong Sort of People. But Lottery money isn’t like that. It’s a voluntary tariff. It’s a shard of blind hope in an unhappy world, paid for by coughing single mothers on council estates, and grim-faced old men with Zimmer frames. And you, for all I know. But if the money is spent on mad things like inflatable windmills or bungee jumping for the elderly, only a fool would complain, as that’s precisely what Lottery money is for. I, for one, am ecstatic to see it being spent on something I actually like – long may it continue, and hats off to the canny distributors who knew how to fill in the forms and tick the right boxes.

But this has surely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Howl’s Moving Castle had a Film Council handout of a mind-boggling £150,000. That kind of money would have gone a long way to bringing the overlooked Millennium Actress or Tokyo Godfathers to the masses. And let’s put this in perspective: the £150,000 forked over for Howl’s Moving Castle would have been enough money for me to buy the rights to Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, subtitle it, press and box ten thousand DVDs, wrap each one in a £10 note and then give them away in the street for free!

But how did Spirited Away, for example, gain from its £40,000 Film Council cash injection? The subtitles were American-made. The dub was American-made. The Film Council money was earmarked for extra prints, so you could catch it in Didsbury or Chipping Ongar, and on extra advertising, so that you knew you could catch it at all.

So you buy a lottery ticket. That money goes to the Film Council. The Film Council gives it to Optimum Releasing to subsidise Spirited Away. Optimum gives it to NEO to advertise Spirited Away, and the sales of advertising help subsidise NEO itself.

Your copy of NEO is that little bit cheaper than it would have otherwise been. Maybe you’ve saved a quid. So now you can buy another lottery ticket! It’s a win-win situation for absolutely everybody involved, and isn’t that a nice thing to hear once in a while?

(This article first appeared in NEO #66, 2009)

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Nebulous Achievements

It’s sweet of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) to award a Best Script Nebula to Howl’s Moving Castle, but hopefully the anime community will take it for what it is – a very belated recognition of a supreme talent. In my opinion, Howl is nowhere near Miyazaki at his best; it often plays like a committee’s attempt to reverse-engineer his greatest achievements. It’s more likely that Howl gets its award for being cosily familiar to the voters – one of those weird Japanese cartoons, but based on a book by an English-speaking author, and directed by that nice old man who made all those great movies in the 1990s that the voters mainly ignored. It is notable that the only anime to previously get a nomination from the SFWA were Princess Mononoke, which had Neil Gaiman credited for the script adaptation, and the subsequent Spirited Away, whose Oscar victory was inescapable. It is also notable that a large number of the SFWA voters are in Japan this month at the Yokohama Worldcon – perhaps they were booking their flights at the same time as they filled their ballots, and figured it couldn’t hurt.
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