Tim Abrams (@timabrams123) interviews Andrew Partridge (@liceas), founder and CEO of Anime Limited and Director of the Scotland Loves Anime Film Festival, which is taking place this year between the 14th and 23rd of October.
Tim Abrams: What drew you to anime in the first place, given that it’s still a niche field of the filmmaking industry?
Andrew Partridge: I would say it’s far less niche than it used to be, but I got into it at the same time as a lot of people did with films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, back in the 90s. One thing led to another and I ended up working for Banzai, handling their business in the UK, France and Germany. It was a sense of rebellion rather than any family thing, which is obviously where the next generation, things like Pokémon, became the big thing.
TA: It strikes me that aside from Akira and Ghost in the Shell, and Studio Ghibli as an entity, it has proven very difficult for anime to break into the mainstream. What do you think the particular reasons for this are?
AP: I think it’s pretty fair actually. There’s the classic films like Ghost in the Shell and Akira and some others which have bubbled to the surface, Giovanni’s Island for example, but like anything there’s not really that much that stands out as the pinnacle versus the total volume of films produced; same for action, same for romance.
For every one Ghost in the Shell there are ten films that are of that vein but not quite on the same level. Whatever the nature of the animation, be it Japanese, be it American, be it French, it forms subsets of different genres; animation is always getting labeled as its own genre just because no one knows where to put it, but the truth of the matter is that it is broken down between the same genres as live action, and predominantly a large proportion of it ends up in the kids’ section.
TA: As a film fan and someone who has seen most of the Ghibli films as well as the works of Satoshi Kon, I realise that I have much further to go down this particular rabbit hole, but one of the problems I have encountered in discussion with other lovers of cinema is that many still see animation, and anime by extension, as films for children, and struggle to engage with it.
AP: And that’s part of the problem. Ask them to name you one piece of animation that’s aimed at adults and they will struggle. In the film world projects are more successful when they are aimed towards families – children – as well as adults, it’s why most Studio Ghibli is more successful than, for instance, Giovanni’s Island, and why My Neighbour Totoro is easier to sell than Grave of the Fireflies. The number of directors and auteurs who exist in anime is as interesting as in other forms of animation; a film like Waltz with Bashir is easier to immediately earmark as not for kids, whereas something like Attack on Titan, Ghost in the Shell or Akira, unless there’s that cultural understanding, is not understood as being for adults as well, because they view it as acceptable for kids.
TA: Moving on, when did you decide that you wanted to set up Anime Limited, a distribution company?
AP: Ever since I started in this industry to be honest, it was just a matter of finding the right opportunity, and the right opportunity presented itself to me back in 2012, when things were changing in the European industry and one of the old guard had been dislodged from the company he was in and wanted to do something new and had money to invest, and so gave me the opportunity to do what I’ve now been doing for three years. Before that, I had worked in the animation space for a long time, in areas from acquisition to production and marketing, so I’d worked in all the different areas and knew what was involved, knew what I was getting myself in for. There was nothing glorious about it at the end of the day, it was just a logical progression and if you get that shot, you take it.
TA: I was reading an interview of yours from around the time you set up Anime Limited and you said that as a smaller company you were hoping to be able to find more experimental means of distribution, and be able to do things which bigger companies are unable to do. It also struck me that this parallels other areas of the industry where big companies can’t take the same risks, often for financial reasons, as smaller companies can.
AP: The real issue is bureaucracy. As a big company you have so much paperwork and planning to fulfil that by the time everyone has discussed and signed off on it from the top down, it’s too late; the opportunity has passed you by by at least six months, if not twelve.
The logic is also very different; it just requires someone special who understands it. Studio Canal were a company who for years understood Ghibli and the top level still do but there’s a disconnect somewhere in the middle. If Ghibli are doing something then anyone at the top who knows their stuff and is passionate about it will pick it up, but anyone lower down the chain will just shrug it off; it’s not the new film starring Idris Elba, so who cares.
The Boy and the Beast for example, a theatrical film by Mamoru Hosoda, didn’t get any mainstream theatrical release. It wasn’t a bad film, although it wasn’t necessarily his apex of filmmaking, but the truth of the matter was they couldn’t do a thing with a theatrical release. We licensed Your Name to Anime Limited and our theatrical plan was quick; it was released in Japan on August 26th and we will be doing a theatrical run on November 24th, and that’s including a dub. That window is very difficult to do the whole process in, end to end. Other areas which are still experimental for things like anime is platforms like Netflix.
We have seen more people say they’re buying our edition because they’ve seen the film on Netflix. As a result, there’s this weird dichotomy where Netflix actually benefits the likes of us, and we have built a pretty good reputation digitally for supplying content, and work with pretty much all of the players at this point, which is unusual. Other experimental techniques we’ve used are releasing three hundred numbered but individual copies and finding ways to make that viable. It’s about picking the right risks, and sometimes you get that very right and sometimes you get it very wrong.
TA: The relationship between distribution companies such as Anime Limited and film festivals, such as the one you run, Scotland Loves Anime, is interesting. Do you think that film festivals such as your own can help to push anime into the public sphere, given the buzz you get surrounding festivals?
AP: That is exactly right, and the relationship is interesting. We act as a tester for films; is it good enough to go on a theatrical or platform run? Is it interesting enough to release on home video? Or is there something which we just want to see on the big screen and which we want to show people? That is what Scotland Loves Anime is about now.
The goal is always to show people something which they wouldn’t see normally, and as anime evolves that’s what is going to become a different challenge; our goal is to show whatever is most interesting and fresh before it comes out in the UK, otherwise the point is lost. This year the festival also looks back at classic films such as Belladonna of Sadness and Momotaro, Sacred Sailors, which is a fantastic piece of propaganda film that was deemed important enough to keep and restore.
We also have a Makoto Shinkai focus, focusing on the director, and that kind of stuff will grow more and more too. I think ultimately, the relationship has changed over the years. Events like Sci-fi London and Scotland Loves Anime, back when it was in its infancy, were the only way. It was festivals or maybe a kids’ club screening and that’s the best you were getting. Now there are options like event screenings and then maybe platform screenings, so it’s very exciting times; whether the people support it or not, festivals like Scotland Loves Anime will always have a place.
TA: What was the process of discovering and bringing to light Momotaro, Sacred Sailors, a film which, like many lost films, can give a real insight into cinematic history and the historical context of the time?
AP: Momotaro is an interesting piece actually, it started with a colleague of mine in Germany who works for VIZ Media and a friend at Funimation. My friend in Germany is very keen on that era of film and his interest in that lead to him digging around the national film archives in Japan to see what they could do. Restoring it was an issue as we think there had been some kind of arrangement from when it was handed back by the American government, and mysteriously there were no internegatives.
Fortunately there was a very good interpositive at the lab, so we were able to restore from that instead, which is very difficult to do at times. It was almost as though someone had accidentally lost those internegatives at some point. Here we are today though, with something that screened in Cannes’ classic category, and did well, receiving a standing ovation.
The fact that the film is here is important, not because propaganda is okay, but because it is okay to understand it, and by destroying it’s like you’re pretending the conversation never happened; you can’t just pretend something didn’t happen, that’s not how it works, and so to preserve it is important.
TA: What does the future hold for your company Anime Limited and the festival, Scotland Loves Anime?
AP: Well we’re working more and more with our friends at Funimation, so the whole new world order is working well in our favour just now in terms of distribution.Your Name is probably the most exciting thing we’ve done in a long time, just because it’s such an amazing piece of film for us, and is really a once in a lifetime chance to really bring anime up to the next level for people, even on an event screening basis.
If we can make this work this time, then next time we do a film with Shinkai we can maybe go to a platform screening, and really build the market long term for directors. It’s taken us three years to get to that point, we’ve worked with smaller directors before and helped get the press reaction, but haven’t had the theatrical to go with it, and you need nth, so this is the first step on a very long road for us.
From the film festival side, getting through this year for me first is exciting, but we’ve developed more of a focus on directors and a willingness to run classics and films which are off the beaten track, even if it’s difficult to sell to people at times. Momotaro, would you believe, is not an easy sell, but at the same time it’s worth doing, and we adapt the same methodology of if it’s worth doing then it’s worth taking a risk on.
TA: To round us up, I would love it if you could recommend to everyone five anime films which we should all watch.
AP: Sword of the Stranger, Time of Eve, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, A Letter to Momo and this year’s film Your Name.