Proof!

archive5

I have not been interested in seeing the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Proof. What do you mean “proof”? Mathematical proof? Proof as in evidence proof? These figurative, double-meaning titles drive me up the wall! Marche de l’empereur??? I thought it was about penguins!

The Japanese film distribution marketing geniuses understand my dilemma and have graciously given the film a more appropriate, comprehensible, and literal title: Proof of My Life (『プルーフ・オブ・マイ・ライフ』)

I get it now: It’s a chick flick.

Despite the ubiquitous houdai title change, this movie campaign clues us into the workings of artistic legitimization in Japan. How do distributors convince possible consumers that the work in question is worth paying ¥1800 per person to see?

At the very top of the ad, large text boasts of the filmmaker and casts’ credentials: 「アカデミー賞最有力」, which is something like “The Greatest Oscar-Power.” (Note that the film has yet to actually win an Academy Award, but the director and actors have.) There is also note about Golden Globe nominations. This is legitimization through foreign prestige and not particularly surprising.

Then there are four quotes about the film. As we all know, American advertisements for movies frequently feature snippets from newspaper and magazine reviews, sometimes from real critics, sometimes not. Consumers are either supposed to be wowed by these “professional” critics’ near-objective positive judgments or be persuaded that a specific reviewer’s subjective views match their own. Maybe Ebert‘s word is not The Word, but more often than not, he knows what I like.

The four quotes on this Proof of My Life poster — which is ostensibly a serious, Oscar-contending tear-jerker — are not from critics, but from four actors: Yoshiyuki Kazuko, Hirosue Ryoko, Nagatsuka Keishi, and Kuriyama Chiaki. Yoshiyuki and Nagatsuka may have some cred on the creative front, but asking Kuriyama and Hirosue what they thought of the film is like asking the hot, slightly intellectual girl in your homeroom what she saw at the movies last weekend. And that’s the point: Legitimization in Japan is less about proving objective value through qualified experts and more about associations with human contexts. The logic goes: I like Kuriyama Chiaki, so I will like this movie. The actual content is somewhat arbitrary.

Different strokes for different folks, but the problem with this non-critical, associative approach is that it tends to de-emphasize product quality. The idea in the U.S. is not that Ebert rules because he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but that these anonymous wonks — whose job is to review movies with their expert opinion — are vouching for the quality. And when consumers reward quality, producers emphasize quality in the creative process over associative elements like stars.

Now, star vehicles still sell well in “cognitive-consumer” countries like the United States, and in the case of Japan, distributors often succeed by using associative, affective techniques to sell innovative, star-less Western films. So, bad and good are possible in both markets, but knowing that a star or a star quote can sell a film, why would Japanese producers ever worry about consumer perceptions of product quality?

W. David MARX (Marxy)
January 12, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

100 Responses

  1. antonin Says:

    sorry but I dont see where what you are reporting is specific to Japan (except from the “I am in Japan / this is what’s happening now in Japan” point of view). The same thing happens elsewhere, in Europe for example. You might want to narrow down your comparison to Japan vs. USA maybe, cause quoting stupid celebs for a film promotion, emphasizing the Award winning cast&crew and changing film titles happen every day outside Japan. Just boring marketing tricks, but nothing specific to Japan. Just my two cents, maybe I’m missing your point ;)

  2. alin Says:

    the point that human values are favoured over critical ones might me valid but this entry does nothing to show it. like antonin says there’s nothing here different to elsewhere (and as far as i know the pauline keel golden age of movie criticism is over even in the u.s.)

  3. alin Says:

    oops freudian slip ( me = be)

  4. calpispatrick Says:

    I think this is a very interesting post and quite specific to Japan. The idea of the Japanese as “associative/affective consumers” can be certainly expanded to advertising campaigns for most consumer goods, which are often endorsed by celebrities with no relation whatsoever to the product (Meiji almond chocolate and Yon-sama (previously David Beckham), anyone?). The logic “I lilke celebrity XYZ, so I will like this product” seems to be the intended effect here as well.

  5. alin Says:

    As far as I remember yonsama’s was the Lotte Almond chocolate the connection being obvious lotte is a korean company.

    while it may have been different in the 70s and 80s (or in lost in translation) you’d find that most of the time there actually is some association, reasoning behind the decisions. often quite 微妙 which is something highly appreciated in japan.

  6. Momus Says:

    I’ve addressed some of the points in this entry on Click Opera in Top down. But I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the slang phrase zenbei ga naita, “the whole of America wept”, meaning, “It’s nothing special”, and derived precisely from the hype on film posters.

  7. Momus Says:

    As usual, I do wholly accept the general premise in this piece. For instance, having released records in the West and in Japan, I know that in the West you often put press quotes in the advertising, whereas in Japan they put an essay in the CD insert with the views of other artists, producers, etc. I’ve often thought it would be nicer to quote Bjork’s view of my record than Mojo magazine’s, and that I’d respect what Bjork thought much more than what some rock hack did. But in the West we want our “experts”.

    And this is where I differ significantly from Marxy. The whole idea of “proving objective value through qualified experts” is epistemologically untenable. In art appraisal, you cannot “prove objective value” because there is no integral and objective value in an artwork.

  8. nate Says:

    Pitchfork publishes artist top ten lists alongside the normal critic reviews now and again. They are headquartered in the middle of the pacific ocean.

  9. calpispatrick Says:

    Yes, it is Lotte and Yon-sama, I seem to have mixed that up with Meiji Almond and David Beckham. However, if Wikipedia is to be trusted on this Lotte is a Japanese company, as it was founded in Japan (although by a Korean), and I very much doubt that Japanese consumers see Lotte as a Korean company. I think most would see no connection between Lotte and Yon-sama different to that of Meiji and David Beckham.

    But to come back to my original point, I still think Marxy’s point that “legitimization in Japan is less about proving objective value through qualified experts and more about associations with human contexts” is not limited to film adverts, but can be found as a general tendency in Japanese adverts for all types of products and explains the often random use of celebrity endorsement.

    A good example might be advertising campaigns of ISPs such as Nifty or NTT Flets, or broadband infrastructure providers such as TEPCO, who often use celebrities with (as far as I can see) little relation to the company or technical expertise to promote their services. In Europe, most of the companies would advertise their rates and other technical specifications, but in Japan companies still rarely compete on objective values such as price and therefore continue to fill their adverts with whatever celebrity is hot at the moment instead (or have a prize draw where you might win a baseball jacket with the company logo, but this is getting off topic).

    The celebrity-strategy might have been effective during the bubble-era when the price of a product was not a consideration, but I think that today a large number of consumers would prefer lower prices instead of their money ending up in some celebrity’s pocket. Still, companies seem unable to replace these endorsements (or the baseball jackets) with other, possibly more successful strategies.

  10. Momus Says:

    The Top 10 list is one of the most super-hierarchical of the West’s inventions, and just seems to get more and more popular. Listomania is also Hierarchomania!

    A better example of “horizontal assessment” or “peer review” in the West would be the German rock magazine Intro, which asks artists to guest review each other’s records. Or BBC 6 Music’s Roundtable, a review show where records are played then reviewed by other artists (but also critics, producers, etc). It’s a round table, there’s nobody sitting at the head, no ultimate judge or gatekeeper, that’s the idea.

  11. Jrim Says:

    The idea of the Japanese as “associative/affective consumers” can be certainly expanded to advertising campaigns for most consumer goods, which are often endorsed by celebrities with no relation whatsoever to the product (Meiji almond chocolate and Yon-sama (previously David Beckham), anyone?).

    Yes, but is the use of celebrities in Japanese adverts really “endorsement”? That’s certainly what we take it for when well-known figures appear in TV/print ads back home, but then it isn’t the norm in the West for virtually every advertisement to feature a celebrity. Sure, using Yon-sama or Ayumi Hamasaki or whomever in your ad is likely to curry favour with consumers, but I don’t know if people are making the association Ms X appears in this advert, therefore Ms X endorses the product itself.

  12. Momus Says:

    Mightn’t it be “Ms X costs a lot, therefore this brand has a lot of money at its disposal, therefore this brand isn’t going to go away any time soon.” And perhaps also: “Famous foreigners dance to this Japanese brand’s money like performing monkeys.” (“Lost In Translation” definitely played on the humiliation of this.)

  13. nate Says:

    the celebrity commercials tend to garner attention from the morning shows and more tabloidy of the news papers. It gets the product and the celebrity in the media.

    minor celebrity one-sentence reviews in movie ads are a little more unidirectional. It doesn’t really benefit the celebrity to have his or her name associated with a movie in such a minor way… especially a movie that’s going to bomb so badly here.

    I think this is an effort to situate this movie socially. If they came out and said it was another math related semi-biopic, or tried to dredge up an identity for the film from some other source, it would inspire virtually no one to pay the 1800. So they attatch celebrities that people can identify with.

    I don’t think this is any more suspect a practice than marketing your product as “extreme” or “natural”… it’s just using names in place of the social ideals they represent.

  14. alin Says:

    calpispatrick: http://www.lotteworld.com

  15. odot Says:

    if it’s any help, “empereur” is a specific race of penguin (manchot, even, note exactly the same bird). besides that, you’d never believe how French distributeurs rename the titles of foreign films if i’d told you (antonin is right).

  16. nate Says:

    alin, try the english language corporate section of http://www.lotte.co.jp

    was established japanese, and despite a huge presence in korea, seems to still be a japanese company.

  17. nate Says:

    well, wikipedia seems the best answer, actually.

    and rather than a coy attempt to associate yon sama with their product, I’m guessing he has an endorsement contract with them in Korea where they are a much more diversified conglomerate. That and he’s a big name in the little old biddy market… prime chocoalte territory.

  18. nate Says:

    edit: and rather than a coy attempt to associate yon sama with the korean-ness of their product…

  19. alin Says:

    i kind of mis-wrote what i wanted to say in the first place. the ethniticity of lotte was not the point. the yonsama lotte ads were running at the height of the korean boom , trips to seoul were also popular, lotte world was a top destination in seoul so to me at least there was some connection there. beyond this i don’t know

  20. cw Says:

    I can’t address the movie quote issue, especially since I live in a relatively rural area of Japan and am thus not bombarded constantly by posters and such, but I’m having a hard time seeing the difference between Yon-sama advertising chocolates in Japan and Catherine Zeta-Jones pushing cell phones in America.

  21. Momus Says:

    Ha, this is typical: Marxy and I are saying “Japan is different” and people pop up to say “Not really, it’s just like anywhere else!” (and, as on my blog today, “You’re orientalist for saying otherwise!”) It comes back to nice nihonjinron, nasty nihonjinron, and the question “Is difference good or bad?” Of course, the answer “Difference is neither good nor bad, just different” is one of those stalemating statements that ends all useful discussion.

  22. marxy Says:

    “Y-a-t-il un flic pour sauver le président ?”

  23. marxy Says:

    Reading the daily Momus essay, I would go as far to say that hierarchy is a natural human condition, but each culture has a different way of legitimizing it. In the Western tradition, talent and ability are seen to determine wealth and power differences. We don’t like nepotism. (Although we oddly vote for it.) That doesn’t mean talent actually determines position, but it’s “supposed” to.

    In Japan, hierarchial position is gained through age in corporations, or objective measures like sales in the entertainment world.

    But it’s the same thing: why does that guy make more money that I do? Japan is allowed to be different, but I wouldn’t confuse it with some kind of real egalitarian Communism. People still bend over backwards to please authority and those above them in the food chain. “Correctness” is relational and not universal. But the truth is – you can’t have “Groupism” without hierarchy. Would people really give such dedication to the organization without some form of hierarchial coercion?

  24. NSF Says:

    Momus and Marxy should just meet for drinks and talk, rather than dueling by email and Google Earthing each other from their own respective points on a little island country.

  25. marxy Says:

    By the way, is it just me being out of touch or is “全米が泣いた” (meaning ironically: it’s not that big of a deal) a seldom-used slang expression?

    I ask Brad and R. and my other linguistically gifted readers to help out here.

  26. marxy Says:

    I’ve often thought it would be nicer to quote Bjork’s view of my record than Mojo magazine’s, and that I’d respect what Bjork thought much more than what some rock hack did. But in the West we want our “experts”.

    Would you like for your press releases to prominently feature what Clare Danes (“My So-Called Life”,”Romeo and Juliet”,”The Mod Squad”) thought of your record?

    The question is though: as an artist, do you want your work “considered” or just “consumed”? One of these is much more common in Japan…

  27. Momus Says:

    But if records are consumed rather than considered here in Japan, why did Kenji Takimi et al bother writing long essays for my CD booklets? And if records are considered rather than consumed in the West… well, that explains why nobody buys my records in Britain, I guess!

    I have no idea who Clare Danes is.

    The phrase “全米が泣いた” gets 52,800 Google Japan hits, so somebody out there is using it! And I don’t think these are people saying America is literally, collectively weeping.

  28. Momus Says:

    (Compare that to only 192,000 Googlehits for the relatively well-established phrase “Jesus wept”. Wow, “All America wept” is already a quarter as big as “Jesus wept”! Not bad!)

  29. check Says:

    Nothing wrong with an experienced critic of an artistic medium critiquing that artwork (film critic, musician, actor, whatever is apropos); problem arises when an inexperienced critic is used to sell art they poorly grasp, and the masses find it logical.

    Another example of a negative outlook on a Confucian culture’s lack of autonomy; disregarding this deference also breeds social harmony, and low crime rates.

  30. alin Says:

    Momus and Marxy you are becoming very interdependent. Bootstraping each other.

    Marxy and I are saying “Japan is different” and people pop up to say “Not really, it’s just like anywhere else!”

    this is a generalization. there are many variations on this theme such as Marxy talking about japan as it it was america in fact, like the marco polo of ‘invisible cities’ he is actualy describing not japan but america. [momus too could be said to be doing this in his own way] so in that case what the little people who pop up are saying is identical is not japan and america but the america in marxy’s japan and america.

    other times the subject of discussion is so thin that it can be safely infered that it is the same in japan as in america ( most of us humans have two nipples and one hole in our arse here there everywhere ) .

    there are other patterns but it’s already getting to structural

  31. NSF Says:

    >52,800 Google Japan hits

    Wow, then it MUST be true.

  32. r. Says:

    「全米が泣いた」is usually used in three senses:

    The first, and older one, being the literal usage, “It was a real tearjerker [of a movie]” (“America wept” is just a silly translation, shame on you, Nick!) that came directly into Japanese from Hollywood movie hype a while back. It was lifted and used by the “catch copy” folks over here to (surprise!) promote the the Hollywood movies they were trying to sell tickets to in Japan.

    The second one is a sardonic (yes, Japanese people can be sardonic!) use of the phrase, but one that is still in the realm of movie criticism. The first person that I hear use this phrase was Piko (of the pair of gay film & fasion critic brothers Piko and Osugi) in the “wideshow” time slot perhaps two years ago. This means, obviously, Americans thought the movie was a tear-jerker, when means you shouldn’t waste your money on it. Again, we haven’t left movieland.

    The third meaning, which is the one Momus is offering (actually, the one he is saying that Japundit is saying that Japundit is saying that whoever is saying that…), as a slang phrase that has lost its cultural moorings and has drifted away from its origin (first and second useages as I describe), used by young people to mean “it’s nothing special” is a new one on me. i:ve never heard it in person, of course, i:m not saying that it doesn:t exist, indeed, if over 50,000 raw hits (out of how many pages in japanese total?) resulted from nick:s painstaking search, then i:d wager that a few of of them might be hits with this meaning he has in mind.

    but i guess here the interesting thing to say is just: so what?

    the jist what what nick is saying towards the end of the paragraph is that there have been linguistic precursors (case in point the one is is mentioning); simple phrases that function as logocentric analogs of the image-based “top-down views of places and their relationships”…that is, before things got all teched-out with google earth and such.

    three things make his observation lackluster.

    1. it isn:t unique to japan if it were, that might be something to blog about. there was already a more “meta” technological architecture in place (the internet, and before that, the wired and wireless forms of communication to promote these MOVIES) that allowed this logocentric/movie industry “america wept” phenomenon to be born in japan, and a host of other places (?). the “google-like” pan that you describe the just the reflexivity of global systems of information and communication. is anywhere and everywhere. “hey, them cro-magnon’s have really ‘hot’ campfires!”

    2. functionally, the phrase is totally arbitrary, just filling in a part of a kind of formulaic thesis, exposition, supporting points structure that nick is so good at performing everytime he writes. (how DOES he write so fast, olammmmmm?)

    2. the kids who use this phrase (how many?) probably don:t have a clue that indeed, for every american that “weeps” at a movie (titanic?) there is another one (who doesn:t go to see it) that busts a gut laughing at the guy who is crying.

    in this sense, these only-half-the-picture-knowing kids seem to be suffering from the same kind of lack of orientation that nick admits he suffers from in terms of his geostatic positon when he was google earthing today.

    “So far, my main reaction to Google Earth is “What the hell is that? I can see where something is, but, since I don’t spend a lot of time floating across rooftops, not what it is.”

    perhaps if these kids could see america that weeps very real tears for the people who are really “into” hollywood, then they might quit using the phrase, or at least modify it a little. something like “[all of] america [that hasn’t a clue] wept [and the rest of them rented something by Jim Jarmusch]” but gee, that:s kind of unwieldly…

    perspective. if there were more perspective, “america wept” wouldn:t have to get drug into that silly entry.

    so, please re-tweak your metaphorical 45°gyaku enkinhou viewfinder (“Bill Humphries” says that call it a “camera tilt control” in Google terms, or in ideological terms, isn:t this what david is trying to do?) and re-write that 5th paragraph as if japan didn:t need to invent google earth, and google-momus didn:t have to re-invent linguistic japan, in order to support this baseless fight of blogging fancy.

    wait. nevermind. scratch that. i think we can all agree that it is more fun to watch the yarn of momusian fiction being spun in real time than to watch the real earth spin in a buffer.

    has anybody got a tissue?

  33. r. Says:

    second two should be the first three

  34. Momus Says:

    >52,800 Google Japan hits

    Wow, then it MUST be true.

    That’s a particularly silly objection, if I may say so. What was at issue wasn’t whether the phrase was “true” (whatever that might mean in the context) but whether it was in use. And 52,800 Google hits proves exactly that.

  35. der Says:

    You’d also have to show that it is being used in your sense. But you know that.

    Also, it may very well be possible that “it” was not meant to refer to the phrase, but rather your thesis. But the first rule of fight club of course is: read your opponent’s statements as uncharitably as possible, and claim for your own statements as wide a sense spectrum as necessary.

  36. Momus Says:

    There’s a lot of struggling going on here to deny that the phrase “the whole of America wept” is not being used in the slangy way reported. here, for anyone who wants to go through them all, are the 52,800 examples of the phrase’s use. Call it sarcastic, call it sardonic, or call it bathos, this phrase is being used, and yes, Robert, outside the realm of movies, as you’ll discover from the very second hit in that Google list, a kid telling an inconsequential (yet “deeply moving”, ha ha) story about bonding with another kid, aged 13, while playing with his Nintendo DS in the queue to buy a Playstation Portable.

  37. Momus Says:

    (Whoops, double negative in the first line: I meant of course “deny that the phrase… is being used”…)

  38. marxy Says:

    I have no idea who Clare Danes is.

    I feel like, if you’re going to openly support airhead Japanese girls and use phrases like “アケオメ!” you also have to tolerate the analog American cultural equivalent – which I guess would be something like Legally Blond. I’m getting off topic here, but as a part of some sort of 反省 / self-deconstruction, I’ve recently found it hilarious that us indie boys of the West hate a certain superficial Western culture, but somehow publicly excpress our love for its Japanese analog. How many here would tolerate a non-Japanese girl referring to herself in the childish third-person?

  39. marxy Says:

    There’s a lot of struggling going on here to deny that the phrase “the whole of America wept”

    I don’t mind that the phrase exists. But I, at least, thought it was “silly” the way you dropped it as if you had actually heard it on the streets and were shocked we weren’t bringing it into this discussion context. Now, I’ve personally never heard it, but that doesn’t mean very much objectively (since the last word I learned was 嚆矢), so I asked the four Japanese people who were over here if they had heard it used sarcastically. They hadn’t. But they’re in their late 20s and don’t watch much TV, so they are unreliable too.

  40. NSF Says:

    How can Momus say that r. is trying “to deny that the phrase is not being used in the slangy way” that he is talking about?
    It looks like Momus isn’t willing to admit r.’s third point that the people who ues the phrase here (teenage gamers) totally lack insight into American culture.

  41. Momus Says:

    Robert’s third point was sheer defensiveness, and irrelevant, “If you prick us do we not bleed / If you mock us, be aware we also watch Jim Jarmusch movies”. So what? Japanese who use this phrase (and it does literally translate as “the whole of America wept”, not the much less colourful, less interesting “It was a real tearjerker of a movie”) are not casting judgement on Americans like Robert, they’re simply expressing a very understandable immunity to the kind of hype printed on Hollywood movie posters here in Japan. No need to tell us that some good things come out of America! Relax!

    R’s third point was grudging (“maybe a few hits out of 50,000”) and dismissive (“and anyway, those kids know nothing about my country”). The phrase’s relevance to my “top down” theme was that something that’s on the top in America (the tears of the American crowd) can be on the bottom in Japan. This point still stands; it explains why critic quotes don’t appear on Hollywood posters in Japan, and it also explains a phenomenon like the reaction of many Japanese kids to Bin Laden: “He’s cool, I like his lips..” (And this right after 9/11, as the whole of America wept.)

  42. nate Says:

    r. are you for real? You think that people who use this phrase are presuming that America is a monolithic weeping machine? You don’t think they might actually be somewhat informed, and making fun of Americans (and/or the Japanese media establishment that uses it america’s tears as a signifier)?

    google earth is intended to be used in conjunction with, and unless I am mistaken is built upon google maps. It may indeed be prettier to look at a building from an angle, but not as useful.
    The 45 degree angle stuff is a fake perspective. The overhead is an arbitrary perspective to be sure, but one born of the nature of the technology.

  43. nate Says:

    just assuming from what I’ve read here before:

    critics have no credibility in japan, not because the japanese are too clever to put their faith in authority, but because critics are generally unreliable. unreliable because they are compelled to write positive reviews on mediocre product.

  44. Momus Says:

    That’s true, but the fact that critics (and other authorities) here are “situated” rather than “pompously universal”, vested rather than disinterested, is the precondition for the much more horizontal appraisal systems (call it “peer review”) which exist here, including stuff like Japan’s much-admired street fashion. The lack of legitmacy for critics allows legitimacy to be claimed by people on the street.

    It’s a bit like imagining UK radio without the BBC, but a bunch of pirate stations instead. Sure, the BBC provides sterling service, it’s professional, authoritative, and gives us pundits, experts and pros on air 24/7. But some would say that Britain’s most exciting cultural exports, things like punk rock or grime, all came out of pirate stations.

    But it’s not either/or: I take an and/and angle on this. Call it the 45 degree angle, combining the best of the above view (pompous universalism, the BBC, movie critics) with the best of the side view (situatedness, pirate stations, peer review and street style).

  45. marxy Says:

    As for these last comments, you are both ignoring the fact that the market system here does not allow critical review because almost all media are directly financially dependent upon the suppliers of talent and art. That is generally not true in other places, or there are ethical barriers between the editorial-advertising departments. Remember that not all the ads on MTV are from record companies, where all the major ads in a Japanese music magazine are from the Japanese record labels.

    So before we exalt the Japanese system for being “above” “pompous universalism” or whatever, realize that 99% of the Japanese population does not even know that the concept of critical review of popular culture exists. The reason that these posters have no quotes from critics is that the structure of the Japanese popular culture market has never allowed the institution of criticism to exist – besides a brief flowering in the late 60s that was stamped out completely in the 80s. Essentially, there are no critics. And if you talk to people who do try to do criticism in Japan – Okamura Shino,for example – they will agree that the system is at fault.

  46. marxy Says:

    As for these last comments, you are both ignoring the fact that the market system here does not allow critical review because almost all media are directly financially dependent upon the suppliers of talent and art. That is generally not true in other places, or there are ethical barriers between the editorial-advertising departments. Remember that not all the ads on MTV are from record companies, where all the major ads in a Japanese music magazine are from the Japanese record labels.

    So before we exalt the Japanese system for being “above” “pompous universalism” or whatever, realize that 99% of the Japanese population does not even know that the concept of critical review of popular culture exists. The reason that these posters have no quotes from critics is that the structure of the Japanese popular culture market has never allowed the institution of criticism to exist – besides a brief flowering in the late 60s that was stamped out completely in the 80s. Essentially, there are no critics. And if you talk to people who do try to do criticism in Japan – Okamura Shino,for example – they will agree that the system is at fault.

  47. Momus Says:

    I don’t see how Nate and I are both “ignoring” this situation when Nate says:

    “unreliable because they are compelled to write positive reviews on mediocre product” and I agree “That’s true”. But you’re ignoring that this situation, which we admit, has positive as well as negative outcomes.

  48. alin Says:

    oh, anthropologists; this is perverse. someone do call some natives on site!

  49. alin Says:

    marxy (sorry, back to this old nut), beg you to reconsider the bare-bones plot of 鬼畜大宴会 and see the compare it to what’s happening here (this page in particular). just call me a wierdo if you don’t see the striking resemblance (in spite of the fact that everything other than that elusive object of desire is different).

  50. nate Says:

    once upon a time marxy said,

    “us indie boys of the West hate a certain superficial Western culture, but somehow publicly excpress our love for its Japanese analog. How many here would tolerate a non-Japanese girl referring to herself in the childish third-person?

    On my blog I wrote about my similar experience both here and in Germany. I think it’s less a matter of superficiality so much as inexperience with the foreign product. So long as novelty persists, the “jaded” posture is impossible, or at least impractical. If you don’t penetrate the language well enough to recognize cliches and overly recurrent themes it’s especially easy to maintain a position of fascination.

    Japanese pop culture just takes a while to cross over the boring threshhold for “us indie boys”. Though the same is true of women as well, I’d guess.

  51. Arnaud Says:

    Since the debate doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, I cannot resist but to give you my favourite movie title translation of all times: “Amazon women on the moon” was released in France under the name “Cheeseburger Film Sandwich”.

  52. alin Says:

    nate:

    so the disturbing thing then is that “us western indie boys” still mentain this bizarre authority position (admittely probably only to other “us western indie boys” who are the only ones to really engage though surely many japanese (non-indie and non-boys) ears have been bombarded by “us western indie boys” insight crap)

  53. nate Says:

    alin, what, white folks can’t use the word “us”?

    no one said anything about authority, just identity. jadedness is a given both in the US and Japan. We’d all still be hearing “sessha wa gitaru samurai ja” everywhere we turned if it weren’t.

  54. jariten Says:

    But if records are consumed rather than considered here in Japan, why did Kenji Takimi et al bother writing long essays for my CD booklets?

    I’ve always been under the impression that those essays were offered (along with lyric translations)as a carrot to get consumers to fork out extra for the domestic release of the CD, which is usually 500 odd yen more than the imported version.

    Anyway, has anyone seen that huge poster for 男たちの大和 in cinema foyers? It’s covered top to toe in quotes too. This time though, these quotes have come from regualar old members of the general public who’ve seen the film early. Although they all basically turn out the same predictable lines (“I couldn’t stop crying!” says 31 y.o OL, Tokyo), I think it’s the first time i’ve seen a film company try to give their film an air of authenticity by having poster quotes come from the mouths of “you and me”.

  55. alin Says:

    500 odd yen more than the imported version

    but last time i know imported cds tend to have a booklet attached in too. for free!

    nate: it’s just that too much of anything kind of freaks me out a bit

  56. alin Says:

    500 odd yen more than the imported version

    but last time i know imported cds tend to have a booklet attached in too. for free!

    nate: it’s just that too much of anything kind of freaks me out a bit

  57. Chomspky Says:

    “…99% of the Japanese population does not even know that the concept of critical review of popular culture exists.”

    …but what about Shukan Bunshun’s weekly starred reviews of movies by four critics?

    There are other examples (not sure whether it falls under ‘popular culture’, but genuine restaurant review books, some with very negative criticism, are appearing, for instance).

    I agree this wasn’t the case before, but I think times are changing. In general I think you tend to underestimate Japanese people’s knowledge and worldly sophistication to make intellectual points.

  58. Jrim Says:

    Okay, have just asked a living, breathing Japanese person (my office manager, Rie) about this. While insisting that she was the wrong person to ask (she normally waits for the film’s DVD release), she said that she might be persuaded to watch a film on the basis of a positive review, regardless of whether that came from a magazine, TV, or some member of the public (even anonymous bods like the ones on the Yamato movie poster).

    Oh, r.e. the essays in CD booklets – aren’t those just like the liner notes that used to be standard for most every record in the west? Personally, I just see it as a throwback to an earlier, more fetishistic era of music listening – a concession that’ll inevitably appeal to the kinds of people who’d actually fork out an extra ¥500 purely for a Japanese edition of an album in the first place.

  59. marxy Says:

    …but what about Shukan Bunshun’s weekly starred reviews of movies by four critics?

    Two points:

    1) Criticism exists in Japan, but it’s marginal. Those film reviews are in the back of Bunshun, right? Pick up your dumbest American magazine – People, Entertainment Weekly – they slice and dice culture in the first quarter of the mag.

    2) Intellectual development in Japan is a slow process (it has to be – it’s a Confucian society where there’s no advantage to having kids smarter than their parents), but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end result is lower than elsewhere. The shukanshi are primarily targeted towards 30+ men, and they are thus allowed to have a little more heady content (between the pictures of nude 19 year olds). But you’re not going to find your average 18-24-targeted mag delving into content criticism the way that the Village Voice or Pitchfork or any college-targeted American media source.

    And as for, “Japanese people would trust critics, but they’re all sold out and only write positive things.” – They’ve always been sold out. Where would people learn to expect real critical review when the concept has never existed in the realm of pop culture media?

    Interesting note: American pop music criticism in the 1950s and early 1960s was identical to the state of Japanese pop music criticism. It wasn’t until the underground press started to review psych music that anything changed.

    In general I think you tend to underestimate Japanese people’s knowledge and worldly sophistication to make intellectual points.

    I can’t even begin to underestimate Japanese sophistication more than the media does already.

  60. Momus Says:

    Criticism exists in Japan, but it’s marginal.

    Ah, here we go again. It happens time after time. First we’re told Slow Life is a dead fad, then, when we point to a dozen, two dozen Slow Life magazines, we’re told “But that’s marginal. One edition on Can Cam sells more than all those magazines put together.” Same thing here with movie criticism. First we’re told it doesn’t exist in Japan, then when we point to some, it’s marginal. And the phrase “All of America wept”. Never heard of it. We point to 52,800 Googlehits. Ah, okay, it exists… but it’s marginal.

    We then hear how much better things are in America.

    Pick up your dumbest American magazine – People, Entertainment Weekly – they slice and dice culture in the first quarter of the mag.

    Um, no. They show some celebrities we know from the movies, perhaps. But it’s hardly F.R. Leavis stuff. Any copy of Cut magazine (there on the rack as you check your DVDs out at Tsutaya) is going to do a more sophisticated job. No, don’t tell me… Cut is marginal, right?

    But you’re not going to find your average 18-24-targeted mag delving into content criticism the way that the Village Voice or Pitchfork or any college-targeted American media source.

    But the Village Voice and Pitchfork are marginal, Marxy! One copy of TV Guide sells more than all the college-targeted publications in America put together! And if it’s marginal, we sociologists don’t even talk about it. It might as well not exist!

  61. Michael McCarthy Says:

    This is the same type of situation that leads people to be disapointed in their purchase of “Goodnight Moon”, on the assumption that since other purchases they’ve made that were favoured by princess Aiko met their needs, that surely this new purchase would simalarly please them.

    Product endsorsement isn’t the same as offering critical observation— I’ll watch that DHC water commerical all day long just to see one of the Kano sisters— but it’s not convincing me to drink the water.

    Critical assessment can also be a bad thing— there is a tendency of experts to give something a negative review solely because it doesnt offer them anything new… You read these types of reviews all the time on sites like Pitchfork— Generally speaking, Pitchfork gives good reviews to records that are atonal screechfests over a record that simply doesn’t raise the bar high enough, or higher than previously expected…

    The funny thing is, Ebert gets panned sometimes as a joke-critic, you know the ‘two thumbs up’ catchphrase didn’t help— But he’s probably the first person I go to when I want to read a sensible review of a movie— Sometimes I feel his age distances him from certain films, but on the whole his experience is far more reasuring than current ‘street-cred’…

    Since there is no such entity as ‘critical assessment’ in Japanese media, is expert-opinion even on the same footing as ‘celebrity endorsement’? My nod goes to the celebrities, well, probably—

  62. Jasong Says:

    Lots of food for thought…But I really don’t see what’s so strange about mentioning the Oscar “power” of the people involved in the film. Yeah, it’s misleading at a glance (ie. as you said, the film hasn’t won any Oscars yet) — but that type of marketing is par for the course in any country who’s paid a lot of money for territorial rights.

    As for the actor endorsements, those four are just part of a bigger list of names (30+) you can see in the trailer (I think Kahime Karie is in there, and erm, Pakkun). It’s also possible some of the people lending their names have been hired to do the 吹き替え版 (dubbed version) for the DVD/video (which is usually done for any major release). Don’t see a mention of that yet, though.

    Next.

  63. marxy Says:

    Of course Pakkun’s on there. He’s a serious actor.

  64. check Says:

    99% of the time, it is rather obvious that individuals on this website do not remotely grasp random sampling – automatically purporting any variety of biased evidence for their thesis proves the thesis to be true.

    Fair samples > partisan samples > anecdotes.

    With this understood, I feel these debates could actually say much more, in much less space.

    (And let me preempt the man who cuts and pastes a super-clever quote about statistics being easily distorted, therefore completely illegitimate. Sorry, not so clever. Just mostly ignorant.)

  65. Momus Says:

    99% of the time, it is rather obvious

    Do you have proof of that based on statistically significant, internationally agreed data? If it turns out to be only 47% obvious only 82% of the time, will you publicly apologize like the South Korea cloning scientist?

    Fair samples > partisan samples > anecdotes.

    Again, this is an unsupported assertion. We need some stats about those anecdotes! What percentage funny are they? What percentage dry? And so on.

  66. check Says:

    99% of the time, it is rather obvious…

    Seems you caught the joke. Good for you.

    Again, this is an unsupported assertion…

    No it’s not. My friend Eriko said it’s totally legitimate. And then I bought some magizines at the store, which prove I’m correct.

  67. Momus Says:

    61% funny, therefore 47% true.

  68. check Says:

    Magazines never lie.

  69. nate Says:

    momus, can marxy win with you? originally we were at the other side of this werent we?

    momus says the lack of critics in japan is a special and fascinating societal phenomenon. marxy disagrees by reflex; momus disagrees; rinse; repeat; and now the existence of critics is important to momus, and sign of the cultural sophistication of the japanese.

    MM, I’m with you on Ebert. Only reviewer I take seriously. That and two of my friends.

  70. marxy Says:

    momus says the lack of critics in japan is a special and fascinating societal phenomenon. marxy disagrees by reflex

    I was trying to move on, but look, we’re not being kneejerk. Here’s what Momus and I are saying:

    Momus: Japan’s lack of pop culture crit comes from an informed post-modern rejection of the very idea of universalism.

    (Bitchy retort: When Japan’s conditions resemble both pre-modern and post-modern situations, it’s funny that Momus always sees it as a vindication of his own personal post-modern philosophical outlook.)

    Marxy: The lack of pop culture criticism is a product of the historical circumstances of power distances in the market structure. Between yuchaku (collusion), bankisha (the use of embedded reporters), and aggressive producer control of access to talent and talent-related information, the large media conglomerates have been unable to enagage in critical activity. Consumers, however, have been taught to make buying decisions based on other factors – mostly affective or social-positional.

    The Top 10 list is one of the most super-hierarchical of the West’s inventions, and just seems to get more and more popular. Listomania is also Hierarchomania!

    I also want to add that no modern pop culture ranks as much as Japan. It’s just not ranking based on subjective criteria. If someone can show me the RanKing RanQueen outpost in Minsk, I’d be happy to consider the weak parts of this argument.

  71. Momus Says:

    Momus: Japan’s lack of pop culture crit comes from an informed post-modern rejection of the very idea of universalism.

    I can’t quite agree that that’s what I’m saying. I basically agree with you that critics here are overly vested, even corrupt in their function as industry stooges. But I see different reasons for this, and also some good outcomes, like the horizontality of “peer review” rather than dictation of opinion from top-down media elites and gatekeepers.

    One reason for this situation (both good and bad) is something I touched on in the Akira Yamaguchi piece on my blog yesterday. Akira says of the Japanese art world: “Japanese have Westernised so quickly and blindly, especially in the 20 century. This applies to fine art. Construction of contemporary art does not come from Japanese. Objects, installation, concept etc., everything comes from Western thinking. I make my work as if I were a fictitious painter in a fictitious Japanese history of art in which Japanese had not been Westernized quickly.”

    Now, imagine the same thing applying to the film business. Japan seems to inherit wholesale the structure of cinema production, movie theatres, criticism etc that the West has developed. In fact, it adopts only a charade of this system, a compliance with outward forms which, inwardly, preserves Japanese traditions, for instance the preference for concensus rather than opinionated gatekeeper critics.

    As I like to say, “when the housewife is lazy, the cat is industrious”. Instead of Roger Ebert saying “Two thumbs up!” you get Japanese kids saying to other Japanese kids “The whole of America wept”, or whatever. Ironically, the West may now be coming to resemble Japan more. It’s perfectly possible that the internet has made Roger Ebert the last Roger Ebert we’ll have, and that Amazon customer reviews are the model for our future review systems.

    I don’t disagree with the summary of your thesis, the stuff about producer control. However, since you like Galbraith you’ll agree that this “command capitalism” is not unique to Japan. And as someone who still appreciates and endorses Japanese cultural products, you’d probably also agree that this system doesn’t seem to produce a public with worse taste than the American one or an artistic production system that’s meeting the demands of its audience less effectively than the American one. As for value, that’s a personal call, but I still find Japanese films and records of great value, although, just as in the West, they seem to emerge despite the dominant production system rather than because of it.

  72. marxy Says:

    That was a reasonable response, and as long as we all admit that criticism couldn’t exist in Japan before it was “rejected” by the populace, then we can move to a better debate about whether “top-down” expert opinion is worse for culture than unfiltered producer information mixed with diffuse peer opinion.

    you’d probably also agree that this system doesn’t seem to produce a public with worse taste than the American one or an artistic production system that’s meeting the demands of its audience less effectively than the American one.

    Of course, I agree, but I think this brings us back to the “consider” vs. “consume” debate. Let’s say there’s a difficult American or European film with high market performance in Japan. Higher even than in the U.S. My eternal dilemma has been that many Japanese young people go to these movies because of a dutiful response to somewhat authoritarian magazine features. Magazines can speak the importance and context of “consuming” the item – of the actual action – but they do not offer much way of placing the film’s artistic importance in a broader context – why this film is good or groundbreaking, etc. So, yes, you get a large number of people seeing unusual films and buying unusual albums in Japan (or at least, you used to), but the question has always been: are young people – lacking the knowledge about context – going to be able to truly consider popular culture that they’ve consumed if their consumption was prompted by a certain duty to following trends or media-dictated lifestyle requirements?

    I know that I’ve bought albums in my youth that were way over my head, which I had no context for, and though I superficially enjoyed them, I wouldn’t say that I “got” them. And I was much less likely to incorporate the lessons of these works into my life (artistic or daily) because I was not able to fully comprehend them. If our standard is just enjoyment, then there is no debate, but if the goal is artistic progression, then it becomes hard to move “beyond” when you don’t actually know what your fighting against.

    Here’s a question: would the first cut of The Brown Bunny (called “the worst film ever to be shown at Cannes” by the one and only Roger Ebert) have been just as successful in Japan as the “much improved” second cut of The Brown Bunny? My guess is, yes.

  73. saru Says:

    Momus, are you trying to tell us that you regularly read the free magazine from Tsutaya? And hear people using the phrase 全米が泣いた?

    Marxy, what is the Japanese equivalent of putting out a “difficult” second album that bombs and slipping into obscurity? Is it just going out of fashion and never being heard from again?

  74. ndkent Says:

    It’s my understanding that (unlike the U.S.) the vast majority of Japanese movie theatre goers are female teens and early 20s women. So I see nothing unusual at all about trying mainly to appeal directly to that audience. If the Japanese movie going audience were more in line with say N.American or British ticket buying demographics then you would have made a far more of genuinely curious observation.

  75. marxy Says:

    It’s my understanding that (unlike the U.S.) the vast majority of Japanese movie theatre goers are female teens and early 20s women

    The demographic point is a very good one, and I’d go as far to say that almost all consumers of pop culture and fashion in Japan are overwhelmingly teenagers and women in their 20s. So, when we argue about “Japan” vs. “America” on this point, we’re really arguing against a market built up for ONLY youth consumers and one that is built up for the population in general. Obviously, things like criticism and the pursuit of objective appraisal are only going to pop up when people take these cultural items seriously – and that usually means adult particupation or some other source of intellectualization. Self-awareness also comes with age, and Japanese media culture does not seem particularly interested in meta issues.

    I do believe that the Japanese employment system does determine a lot of these demographic patterns (shakaijin working late), but I do think a lot of American editors/writers/thinkers in their 20s will gravitate towards over-thinking pop culture in imitation of their elders. Who would a Japanese 18 year-old aspiring writer imitate other than the guys who write the hack copy at Boon?

  76. marxy Says:

    Marxy, what is the Japanese equivalent of putting out a “difficult” second album that bombs and slipping into obscurity? Is it just going out of fashion and never being heard from again?

    Interesting question. I would argue that Shiina Ringo’s third album Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana fits the bill. It, of course, hit #1 even without a power single, strictly from the automatic buying surge of all the previous fans rushing out the first week to purchase it. Whether they liked it or not seems besides the point. Rockin’ On etc gave it good marks, of course, but Toshiba EMI were paying their salaries on that one. This is the one Jpop album I wish people would take seriously.

    What happens to a difficult album? First, no one is allowed to make difficult albums. Shiina Ringo is an exception. Second, as long as fans keep buying, not much. I’m sure she lost fans on that one, which probably spurred her to do Tokyo Jihen. Brad, what do you think?

    One more point on demographics: if a magazine like People in the US is aimed almost entirely towards women in their 20s-40s, why do they do numbered culture reviews? Why did they review the They Might Be Giants demo tape in the 80s?

  77. Momus Says:

    many Japanese young people go to these movies because of a dutiful response to somewhat authoritarian magazine features. Magazines can speak the importance and context of “consuming” the item – of the actual action – but they do not offer much way of placing the film’s artistic importance in a broader context

    Your argument here just doesn’t make sense. How can these Japanese magazines be pure promo puff, and seen by everybody as just that, yet also be “authoritarian”? Surely to be vested, to be situated (like a commercial, which has an obvious agenda which makes everybody see it as biased and self-interested) is the opposite of being authoritative? What would give magazines the status you describe, real authority, would be precisely “placing the film’s artistic importance in a broader context”. This is what magazines and newspapers in the West try to do. It’s what I call “pompous universalism”. It says, effectively: “We are not biased, we are not part of the promotional machinery, but we are highly knowledgeable and can put things in their proper context, give you the objective truth even on so subjective an issue as whether a movie is good.” It’s precisely people who listen to and act on these statements who are being dictated to by an authoritarian media. I don’t say that authority is always illegitimate in the West — some of our critics are good, like Jerry Saltz at the Voice, my personal favourite. But you yourself link to a hoax quotes racket (the Manning affair), and I’m sure you’d agree that many US critics are much more complicit with the promo machine than they’d admit, and when they aren’t it’s often because “Rupert Murdoch doesn’t like the liberal Hollywood agenda” or something.

    As usual, you really have to examine assumptions like “only the Japanese have an authoritarian and complicit media”. Especially if you’re an American, and America is your constant point of comparison. I mean, sure, “podcast” was the word of 2005 in the US, but wasn’t “embedded reporter” the word just before that?

  78. marxy Says:

    The Japanese media is not authoritarian in tone, but the consumer response bespeaks its authority. Just like the cute policemen posters, the messages are “soft” but still carried out by the targets. No one has to say anything why A Bathing Ape was good in the 90s – its placement in the “right” magazine and on the “right” people said enough. And with such a concentrated consumer response to the exact magazine advice, it’s hard not to see these magazines as authorities.

    You may be right that criticism in the U.S. is authoritarian, but I would argue that few people use other people’s opinions as their sole indicator of whether to see something – and especially if they end up liking it. If the critics all agree that a movie is good, you’re going to see some effect, but I’m not sure whether I’ve ever stopped liking an album because Christgau is grumpy about it.

    But what criticism does is it puts art in a context of criticism and review, and when you finally partake yourself, you have an unconscious framework for personal consideration. Criticism introduces the public to a whole field of various judgment criteria, and we unwittingly internalize it. Criticism educates, whether we agree with it or not.

    I fear that the lack of Japanese criticism may provide for expansion of judgment criteria for consumers. To a certain extent, the media teaches us how to appreciate culture, and criticism – like it or not – is one of the biggest vehicles for that.

  79. Momus Says:

    My experience is that when new cultural forms come along, punk rock, computer games, whatever, the kids pick it up quickly. Only later do the “authoritative” media come along to “teach us how to appreciate it”. And usually they’re explaining it all to your clueless parents. Then, about a decade later, it reaches the universities, and they think they’re incredibly radical for putting it on the syllabus.

  80. marxy Says:

    Are you saying that Japanese kids “got” Comme des Garçons before the establishment did?

  81. Momus Says:

    Well, let’s put it this way. There are those who think the Godard cult in Japan is the result of Japanese kids getting Godard “wrong”. And there are others who’d prefer to say that Godard has no “right” meaning, and that the way Godard is consumed in Japan is very interesting.

  82. marxy Says:

    I don’t think most Japanese kids get Godard “wrong.” That would entail them having formulated some kind of perspective on his work.

  83. Momus Says:

    I really hoped you might have ended that thought “That would entail the naive view that works of art have fixed, objective meanings across cultures.”

  84. marxy Says:

    I’m not against some alternate reading of Godard or whomever. I’m concerned with the lack of readings in general.

  85. Momus Says:

    But what is popularity but a cluster of “readings”? Even “We like Audrey Hepburn / Anna Karina” is a reading. (Japanese people like Audrey much more than Western people do, judging by the number of times you still see her face on adverts and in shop windows.) In what way is that not a “perspective”? Because it’s not Film Studies 101 or Talk Radio 101.8FM?

  86. marxy Says:

    But we measure popularity through sales, which doesn’t take into consideration the actual post-consumption process. Yes, people rent Godard, or watch Godard, but there is no way to know whether they thought about Godard or have an opinion on Godard or created their own web of meaning for Godard or were satisfied by Godard. Japanese people may be out there creating lots of beautiful new meanings to Godard, but we won’t know about any of them since the media does not give space to exposition about the meanings of products. The web changes this, but until now, there has not been a public space that encourages the construction of personal perspectives on culture.

  87. Momus Says:

    You’re just trying to nudge your comments past 100 on this one, aren’t you?

  88. nate Says:

    I would guess you see audrey hepburn much more here because her image is licensable for a reasonable fee in Japan, but protected like uranium enrichment technology in the states. You can’t get her picture on a package of soap in America for under a kajillion dollars.

    Maybe in turn she’s a more persistent icon too.

  89. Momus Says:

    That, if I may say so, is a really typical economistic explanation for a Neomarxisme reader. (How do you know this? Is she the only actress to have these cut-price rates? Is she as expensive in Britain, where we never see her image in advertising? And how would that explain all the illegal uses of her image in Japan, where she’s just pasted up informally in hairdressers and clothes shops?)

    I think it’s much more likely to be something to do with the fact that AH could almost be Japanese in many photos, and had a face and personality that incarnated many qualities the Japanese prize: cute, feminine, funny, playful, aristocratic, whimsical, beautiful, self-deprecating, rather conservative, rather innocent.

  90. Momus Says:

    And I think this is a case in point: no doubt some software could be made to measure our preference for certain face shapes (it exists already, in fact), and how preferences vary from culture to culture (again, tests like these exist, like the one that showed that Asians look more at the overall context of a picture and Americans search for a single, central, dominant figure). Subliminal things like these, built into our cultural software, might well determine which films we like and which we don’t. Yet, because they’re often unconscious, they’re some of the least discussable criteria for cultural preference. Marxy would no doubt consider them illegitimate because they aren’t what Roger Ebert would choose to talk about in a film review. Yet Ebert’s reviews might well be formulations (complete with rationalisations of the irrational) of just this sort of hardwired cultural preference. And we might be fooling ourselves when we think these things can or should be articulated, can or should be negotiated. They’re built into us at the very level of perception.

  91. marxy Says:

    I’ll buy the AH = Japanese logic. I like the Beatles because my hair naturally grows that way.

  92. nate Says:

    he he… market factors versus japanese essentialism.

    audrey hepburns face popping up spontaneously and unliscensed would be an obvious consequence of all the licensed uses. Her face is a sign that hasn’t been neglected to the extent that it has in the English speaking world.

  93. Momus Says:

    I’m sorry, but unless you can come up with a source for this rumour about Audrey being cut-price to license in Japan (and I want prices for various countries, and their correlation to frequency of use in promotional material), I’m going to have to dismiss your theory as crass and reductive economism. In fact, it doesn’t even make economic sense. The estate of Audrey Hepburn would be foolish to charge least in the country where Audrey is most in demand.

  94. nate Says:

    momus: crass or no, I’m not assuming out of thin air about the licensing fees and restrictions.

    I assume you know that they don’t put the price of someone’s face on a website. You probably also know that most image licensing firms charge based on intended number of copies and type of exposure. Licensing of images and myriad other things are often conducted by different companies at different prices in different regions.
    For example, the crazy variety of converse all-stars that you can get in asia is due entirely to the more forward-thinking company that liscensed production from the ailing (if not bankrupt) converse company.

    While I can’t tell you what the rates are, I can tell you that in Japan, the licensing of Audrey Hepburn’s image seems to be handled at least in part by tohokushinsha film corporation. TFC claims their strategy with Hepburns image was maximum exposure. In America her intellectual property rights seem to be handled by and large by Robert Richman, who brags all over the net about being discreet about licensing images.

    Yes, of course she appeals to japanese ideals. Saying that there are market forces at play does not diminish that claim. However, the ubiquity of her image on everything from electronics catalog covers to milk tea ads clearly plays a role in the abiding popularity of the image.

    Challenging this assertion to numerical proof is pretty crass if you ask me… would you mind giving numerical proof of your assertion?

  95. nate Says:

    ah, shit… I write all that and then leave an obvious entry point for a facile attack, and a chance for momus to avoid the rest of the assertions dangling off the end.

    I say it’s crass because licensing of well known images is a secretive game. The license holders know the value of someone’s image fluctuates and that some uses can benefit the image’s value enough to be worth offering at discount rates. There are no fixed prices on images of audrey hepburn.

  96. Momus Says:

    This is getting dangerously close to “Freakonomics”. “And now here are the numbers for things you thought were nothing to do with numbers.” The fact that you can attach numerical values to cultural phenomena doesn’t mean it’s the best way to explain them, though. I’m assuming you know that, and that’s why you immediately backtracked from “Would you mind giving numerical proof of your assertion?” (This applies to Check’s points upthread as well, with his odd belief that a statistic is always better than an anecdote, whatever the subject.)

  97. nate Says:

    my point was that the inavailability of numbers and the fuzzy nature of the data makes providing statistics a rather hurculean and imprecise effort. so, yes, I agree.

    were there no underlying cultural interest in her image, it wouldn’t sell at any price. but kirin picked it up in the late nineties for a song, and in doing so gave currency and value to her image 5 years after her death. i may have my timing reversed, but I think shortly afterward, a top selling photo book of AH was released as well. Those celebrity photo books, especially posthumous ones, are compartively uncommon in the states precisely because of licensing fees and legal barriers.
    I’m not resisting your point at all, but your insistence that the market and japanese IP copyright laws played no part whatsoever seems wholly improbable.

  98. Momus Says:

    “A busload of Japenese tourists pulls away from the Pavillon Audrey Hepburn [in Tolochenaz, Switzerland]. “Arigato!” they call, waving to Franca Price, 57, the museum’s director. “Seventy to eighty percent of our visitors are from Japan,” Price tells me. She believes it is because “Audrey Hepburn incarnated a simple elegance that is a strong part of Japanese culture.”

    Swiss News

  99. marxy Says:

    I think you’re both right. There is something about Audrey Hepburn that fundamentally appeals to those ascribing to the conventions of late 20th century female Japanese commercial culture, but I’m not sure she would be such a “market success” without producers able to supply the population with the opportunities to get to know her. Was there a grass roots push for Audrey goods that producers had to come in and supply? Or did the very fact that she graced commercial campaigns lead to a mass level of popularity? Whatever happened, it was a perfect match between both producers and consumers.

  100. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: how is it that you can comment on the quality of the articles in a magazine at Tsutaya? We all thought you were functionally illiterate, have you been holding out on us the whole time?