The latest issue of Japanese news weekly AERA (more like a Japanese version of Time magazine than many other weeklies) contains an interesting bit on China’s animation industry that fits in nicely with my last few posts. Full translation follows:
Anime to make a comeback in China, where it started
by Reiko Miyake
China has been “invaded” by Japanese-made animation, but in fact this was the former world power that taught animation to Japan
China as a nation is currently putting its efforts into developing “Donghua.” Donghua is Chinese for animation and comic books. In the past 3 or 4 years, 19 cities nationwide including Shanghai, Changchun, and Hangzhou have been equipped as “Donghua headquarters” or centers for the animation industry. Schools to develop talent and studios are being established in earnest.
According to sources close to the issue, the scale of China’s animation character market amounts to as much as 100 billion yuan (approx. 1.5 trillion yen). Japanese animation such as Pokemon and Case Closed are enormously popular, and up to now a multitude of pirated versions have been distributed. While dominated by Japanee animation and Disney, here and there original Chinese-made animation has started to come out such as “Indigo Cat.”
A longer history than Japan’s
Inspections of imported animated works are strict, in part because of protection of domestic works. The first company to truly attempt to export to China was Mulan Productions. They are very skilled at the business of managing copyrights in China. They have produced many hits, starting with Crayon Shinchan in 2002 and following up with Dragonball and Fruits Basket.
Takashi Mita, chief of the company’s International Business Headquarters, explains: “First of all, the quantity of foreign animation that is shown in China is is restricted as a whole. It is subject to a strict inspection from the perspective of public order and morality, and works that contain many portrayals of sexual activity or violence are taboo. All in all, the condition for export is that the works are healthy for children.”
Looking just at the situation in the past few years, Japan looks like a developed country while China looks like a late bloomer in terms of their respective animation industries. However, it is not very well-known that China’s animation history is actually longer and had a major impact on the developing stages of Japanese animation.
At a Tokyo cinema in 1942, a young Osamu Tezuka watched “Princess Iron Fan,” an animated film based on the Chinese epic Journey into the West that was produced in Shanghai, which was an animation production center at the time. The fact that the intense emotion he felt at that time formed the basis for Tezuka to produce animation is an anecdote known by those in Japan’s animation industry. After becoming a comic book artist, Tezuka met with Princess director Wan Lai-Ming time and again.
After WW2, Wan and others gathered in 1957 to create the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio, a nationally-run animation studio. These are the roots of Japan’s animation industry as well as China’s.
Decline due to the Cultural Revolution
Subsequently, Japanese animation has developed as both an art and an industry to take a 60% share of the $25 billion animation market. Meanwhile, China’s industry declined due to the Cultural Revolution after peaking in the 60s and 70s.
So, Chinese animation industry is now attempting to revive itself once again. The works that the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio created from the 60s to the 80s will be shown from December 16 at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Features gaining the most attention are 4 ink-painted short films. The Tadpole Searches for His Mother, made in the 60s, is a classic in which the movements of frogs and tadpoles are drawn in ink style, which though slightly blurred is very lively. It was shown at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention.
Almost 50 years later, focus is once again on ink expression in China’s animation productions as students of a Chinese technician development school produce a 3-D animation using the techniques of ink animation. Director Wan’s long-format “Sun Wukong on the Rampage” will also be shown.