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de-VICE the 3rd

TOKYO INTERNATIONAL ANIME FAIR 2007

home on da range: 2007
the rambunctious de-VICE philosophy spiel
de-VICE back issues
a quickie with PLAID
a quickie with MR. SCRUFF
HAPPY FEET movie review
TOKYO INTERNATIONAL ANIME FAIR 2007
michael arias on TEKKON KINKREET
DJ KENTARO enters the picture
MAD PROFESSOR huffs and puffs
the de-VICE answer to Tarantino's DEATH PROOF
ZUZUSHI 2 melbourne vs. tokyo
KID CALMDOWN and SLEEPY ROBOT: sydney's coolest djs?
ISNOD is good
J-MACHISMO: top men in Japanese anime cinema
DJ NEO: acid meister
photographic exhibition KEITAI KOUTURE
CAPTAIN AMERICA is dead
IF? Records gets all shameless & impudent
movie review: PAPRIKA
SON OF ZEV: who's your dad?
GOLDIE
GENIUS PARTY: new anime from Studio 4C
RYOJI ARAI: the best kids' book ever made into animation?
does DIGITAL PRIMATE have a siege mentality?
just how sweet is KANDYMAN?
jonathan more on COLDCUT
much ado about BASEMENT JAXX
JEFF MILLS: one man spaceship
from the back of the fridge: SI BEGG
from the back of the fridge: GAIJIN BABY
e-us if u really have'ta

by Andrez Bergen (originally published in the Daily Yomiuri)

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"Tokyo is the mecca for anime fans around the world," Makoto Tsumita said in a conversation with de-VICE last week. Tsumita should know - he's the marketing manager for the international division of essential anime production house GDH - and, if Tokyo is a mecca, then the Tokyo International Anime Fair, better known as TAF, is the goal of this city's new annual pilgrimage.

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Last year's event drew close to 100,000 people over four days. TAF2007 will feature 270 companies, including 55 from overseas, and will have a Canadian Pavilion for the second time.

"It's the best place for foreign buyers to find everything under the same roof," Canadian Embassy spokesman Stephane-Enric Beaulieu said.

Anime fuel domestic film boom

In 2006, for the first time in 21 years, domestic Japanese films outstripped their foreign brethren at the box office, capturing 53 percent of this country's cinema earnings, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, Inc. (MPPA). Further, four of the 10 top-grossing movies last year were Japanese anime productions, each of which outsold Pixar's computer graphics flagship, Cars.

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It was quite a turnaround on the previous year's figures, when half that number of anime made the top 10, and foreign movie takings dominated by a margin exceeding 15 percent.

Thus 2006 was a banner year for anime - a welcome reversal of the medium's declining fortunes.

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Two years ago, the Japan External Trade Organization reported that, despite strong continuing domestic returns for anime and their comic book siblings, manga, there was a significant decline in sales of both media in the years leading up to 2004.

Manga alone had dropped 20 percent over the previous decade.

In light of last year's MPPA figures, it would seem that some progress has been made toward redressing the predicament, yet disquiet remains regarding the health of what has been a huge cash cow for decades.

Anime companies have also been coming to grips with production cost cutbacks and growing dependence on outsourcing to China, South Korea and the Philippines, along with a dearth of experienced animators: In an industry plagued by underpaid creative staff, there has been a significant exodus of these people to the greener pastures of the more lucrative video game business.

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Francesco Prandoni, one of the heads of international operations at eminent anime producers Production I.G, remains positive.

"That the industry is suffering from overproduction is nothing new," he said. "Too many series are biased by budget restrictions, and a shortage of enough qualified staff. Yet we're still reaching the highest standards thus far."

Production I.G, which is responsible for the innovative Kokaku Kidotai (Ghost in the Shell) franchise, as well as the animation sequences in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1, keep their assembly processes in-house as one means of ensuring a higher-quality outcome.

They also keep an open eye on international licensing, marketing and accessibility, a refreshing change in an industry that often struggles to see beyond the veil of domestic sales.

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It would appear that the notion of successfully marketing the dozens of feature-length films and TV titles produced in Japan each year - to key financial growth markets like the United States, Europe and the rest of Asia - just hasn't occurred to some companies.

Moreover, overseas inroads for anime, while on the increase, are constrained by bureaucratic obstacles imposed by many of these same businesses - impediments that border on the xenophobic.

Bamboozling copyright issues, communication problems and draconian principles of product control are likely to leave foreign media representatives flummoxed.

"Some Japanese anime companies limit their international coverage by imposing a great many restrictions, or try to have control over that coverage themselves," said Robert Bricken, the former editor of American magazine Anime Insider and current editor-in-chief of animeOnline.com, a new anime news site and online community. "That's a major problem for exposure in the American press, which has always had an emphasis on editorial freedom."

All of which marks this year's sixth annual TAF, billed as "the world's largest anime exhibition," as essential to nurturing the resurgence in the medium's fortunes, and also to building a better understanding between anime companies and the new international customers clamoring to buy, and write about, their wares.

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More international exposure

As it stands, Japan currently produces almost two-thirds of the animation watched around the globe, "and 70 percent of this is produced in Tokyo," a spokesman for the TAF Executive Committee Secretariat told de-VICE, making the argument that this city is the natural and most attractive setting for the hugely successful anime trade fair.

"Canada has long been a powerhouse of animation software," said Beaulieu, from the Canadian Embassy. "Our involvement at TAF allows Canadian companies to explore the Japanese market and make contact with the right partners."

The yearly event suits not only embassies and foreign buyers looking out for new, cutting-edge anime content, but also those occasionally alienated foreign journalists, as Bricken is quick to point out.

"TAF provides a central location for the Japanese animation industry. Foreign markets come to them; it's convenient and informative; and in the few years since its inception, I think it's become integral to the worldwide anime industry. We also get to discuss overseas editorial coverage of their properties face to face," he says.

These properties - upcoming anime feature movies and TV titles - are the true focal point of each year's TAF.

According to I.G's Prandoni, this year looks like no exception. "Our spring 2007 lineup includes three outstanding new TV shows," he enthused.

One of these is Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit), helmed by Kenji Kamiyama - the director of the hugely successful series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Fellow company GDH - the people behind the recent anime hit Afro Samurai, which utilized Samuel L. Jackson's vocal work so well - also has three fresh shows in the pipeline, including Romeo x Juliet, a futuristic revamp of the Shakespeare classic, due to air in Japan next month.

"TAF is vital," says Tsumita from GDH, "because we get to make presentations of the new shows. We can gauge first impressions from the market, and have the opportunity to discuss the business of new acquisitions and coproductions."

Prandoni had a similar view: "It's the only event in Japan exclusively dedicated to animation that combines business-to-business and business-to-customer. You get a chance to have direct contact with potential partners, press and fans from Japan and the rest of the world."

As these ruminations suggest, TAF is more than just highbrow industry money brokering.

While the first two days cater exclusively to business interests, TAF is open to the general public over the weekend when the parent anime companies tout their new goods, show sneak previews of upcoming titles, hold special commemorative screenings and tied-in J-Pop performances, and vend new-fangled merchandise.

"It's a fantastic event for anime enthusiasts from all quarters," said Bricken.

Summing up, Prandoni quipped: "Japanese people do like their matsuri."

Tokyo International Anime Fair 2007 was held March 22-25 at Tokyo Big Sight. For more information, visit www.tokyoanime.jp

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