Japanese Animators Hope Newest Project Will Finally Bring Them a Hit in Korea

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Japanese Animators Hope Newest Project Will Finally Bring Them a Hit in Korea

The release of a new Japanese animation onto the Korean market will be studied closely by animation industry watchers, who consider it a barometer of the future popularity - and profitability - of Japanese animated films in here.

"My Neighbor Totoro," directed by Hayao Miyazaki, will premiere in Korea on July 28.

In 1998, when Korea relaxed its restrictions on imports of Japanese cultural products, it was expected that Japanese animated films along with other Japanese cultural products such as CDs, films and TV shows would be hugely successful in the Korean market.

But such expectations were dashed with the poor performance of three movies: Yoshiyaki Kawajiri's "Ninja Scroll," Mamoru Oshii's "Jin-Roh" and Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind." Miyazaki was perhaps consoled by the fact that his "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" performed the best out of these, drawing 130,000 viewers. But this figure still fell well below predictions that rested on the director's fame among Korean animation fans.

"Ninja Scroll" attracted only about 10,000 viewers in Seoul, and "Jin-Roh" also was not very well received. "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" and "Jin-Roh" were deemed too sophisticated for general viewers to understand their underlying meanings. "Ninja Scroll" was criticized for containing too much violence and sexual suggestiveness.

Some predict that "My Neighbor Totoro" will perform well in Korea. Like Disney films, it was created with family viewers in mind. It has also done well in the United States and Europe, as well as in other Asian countries.

But others are not so sure. They reason that there is not yet any concrete market for Japanese animated films in Korea, and that the failure of previous efforts underscores the difficulty of catching Korean tastes. They also worry that many Korean viewers may already have watched "My Neighbor Totoro" on pirate videotapes circulating among animation fans. Thus, they say, the success of "My Neighbor Totoro" depends upon whether Korean viewers who have already seen the film like it enough to watch it again on the big screen.

Thus, as the movie has been successful overseas and is targeted at a large market, it is seen to be of particular value in testing the waters in Korea.

"My Neighbor Totoro" certainly scored big with Japanese audiences. Produced in 1988, it was the recipient of various awards that year including Best Japanese Film at the 43rd Mainichi Film Competition. "Stroll," the song that introduces the film, became a favorite of Japanese children to sing on school holidays.

Totoro, the main character of the film, took Miyazaki 10 years to create. Totoro is a hairy forest fairy who resembles an owl, raccoon and bear rolled into one. This tall, chubby fairy is visible only to innocent children.

The film is about Totoro's friendship with two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who live in the Japanese countryside. The film was praised for its realistic depiction of life in rural Japan in the 1960s.

by Ki Sun-min

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