SF-Based Distributor Viz Pictures

Erika Young January 9, 2008

Wondering what kind of possessed electrical appliance or wall-climbing ghost child Japan is going to send to the U.S. next? Help is on the way. Viz Pictures, the live-action film division of San Francisco’s Viz Media, has just marked its second year of bringing a broader range of Japanese film — specifically, "cute and cool" live-action movies — to the growing audience for Japanese pop culture.

In a market that’s been ruled by horror and gangster-movie exports, how does Viz choose which ones to distribute?

"We choose movies which represent ‘J-Pop’ from our point of view, and that’s our difference," says Manami Iiboshi, director of marketing for Viz Pictures. "The most challenging part has been educating our buyers and consumers about Japanese cinema and letting them know that there are great films coming out of Japan that are not just horror or martial arts. [Our films] touch upon subjects like love and humor, as well as challenges that people face in their lives and how they overcome these obstacles."

The films, which are distributed by parent company Viz Media, all feature some element of "kawaii", an adjective that everyone from Japanese schoolgirls to Paris Hilton uses to describe something that’s cute (in a good way). In fact, one of the main factors in the decision to start Viz Pictures was the success of "Kamikaze Girls," which Iiboshi says is a "perfect showcase of Japanese culture, with cuteness, coolness and craziness all packed into one movie."

But will filmgoers be able to find Viz’s films among the Hollywood blockbusters? So far, not only have their movies been reviewed by the New York Times, TV Guide, Variety and Entertainment Weekly, the reviews have come from some of those publications’ senior writers (specifically, infamous taskmaster Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, unafraid to compare Santa’s entrance in "The Polar Express" to one of Hitler’s Nuremberg rally entrances).

Viz’s plans for 2008 include the release of eight-plus films, plus the beginning of construction of Viz Cinema and the J-Pop Center on Post Street. Sort of a cross between civic boosterism and a film enthusiast’s most cherished dream, the Center will feature a branch of Japantown’s Kinokuniya Bookstore, a cafe, and several modern fashion boutiques from Tokyo. The 150-seat Viz Cinema will focus on Japanese film, including first-run movies directly from Tokyo, anime films, monthly directors’ series, and more.