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?