Image: Your name (Kimi no Na wa) official Japanese website
Japan's burgeoning animation sector is in crisis with low wages, long working hours and a shortage of artists, just as its global popularity has never been greater.
Three of the ten feature films competing for the first prize at the world's largest animation festival in Annecy, France, which ended Saturday, June 15, come from Japan.
The country is the only real opponent of the Hollywood domination of the labor-intensive genre.
But just as the Japanese anime seemed to threaten to loosen the hold of Pixar and Disney on the popular imagination, with notably the hit movie "Your Name" and the Nintendo Super Mario movie, long structural problems are in danger of undermining its ascent.
About a shortage of talent, his biggest star, the legendary founder of Ghibli Studio, Hayao Miyazaki, has just retired at age 78 to do "How Do You Live," which is expected to be released in the summer. next year with speculation that he could take another feature film. if his health holds.
Miyazaki paved the way for the art of dance with animated classics such as "Spirited Away" (Oscar Win), "Howl's Moving Castle" and the fabulous "My Neighbor Totoro".
But Yoshiaki Nishimura, a Miyazaki veteran who produced the Oscar-nominated film "The Tale of Princess Kaguya," told AFP that the sector was struggling to "cope with the lack of animators, poor working conditions and perhaps even a lack of creativity ".
His peers also complain about low wages, the lack of young emerging talent and the burnout of overworked animation teams that often work between 12 and 18 hours a day.
Rising star Keiichi Hara, who presented her new film "The Wonderland" in Annecy after winning the Jury Prize four years ago with "Miss Hokusai", feared for the future.
"Perhaps the biggest problem of the Japanese animation industry is that there are no more young animators," he warned.
Ayumu Watanabe, whose beautiful film "The Children of the Sea" was presented out of competition at the festival, worries about visual "standardization" and lack of originality, without having to worry about the fact that "less and less fewer animators know how to draw by hand ".
Even heavyweights in the sector, such as Mamoru Hosoda, the genius behind "Wolf Children," "The Boy and the Beast," and "The Girl Who Goes Through Time," have to spend long hours with relatively small teams.
Last year, he had told AFP that his latest hit, "Mirai", had been inspired by the fact that his wife was complaining of being a widow of his work and the only one he had ever seen. had called to report to him to have left "to raise my son all alone".
Follow-up "Your name"
Watanabe said the industry has been split into two extremes: "great productions that can appeal to an incredible number of animators and at the other end of the scale, and more art projects generating much less money.
All eyes are turned later in the year on the release of "Weathering with You", Makoto Shinkai's fantastic sequel to "Your Name", the biggest hit of all time.
The production team of the film unveiled in preview the supernatural history of Annecy, when a high school student meets a girl who can change the time.
With a live version of "Your Name" in the works and American television about to redo the Japanese cult series "Train Man" on a youth obsessed with cartoons, the genre has never been closer to the norm international.
Nishimura said that he had tried to maintain "Ghibli's style and spirit … with a mixture of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation" at Studio Ponoc, which he had created after Miyazaki, a heavy smoker with health problems, hung up his pencil in 2013.
The new surfer story is a huge success
Nishimura made her first success in 2017 with "Mary and the Witch's Flower" and created a series of new short films in Annecy.
For him, the problems of the industry are "the result of an accumulation of problems over the last five to ten years," but he insisted that his studio was trying to "create a new environment."
And as the excited public in Annecy proves for Masaaki Yuasa's touching "Ride Your Wave", despite its problems, Japanese cartoons can still work well.
The story of love, surfing and sorrow hit the strings of criticism at the French festival.
Amel Lacombe, whose company Eurozoom is one of the leading French distributors of animation, said that the difficulties of this sector are due to its rapid growth and that "we are currently in a period of adjustment".
She believes that the Japanese authorities are becoming aware of the importance and global reach of cartoons "as an export force". HM / JB
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