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It’s hard to say just when One Piece crossed the line from cult manga comic to global media phenomenon.
But with 15 feature films, more than a dozen television specials and multiple video game spin-offs, not to mention Eiichirō Oda’s original comic, which has sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates have become as well-known to the current generation of fantasy fans as those of Harry Potter were to the one before.
The latest One Piece feature film, One Piece Film: Red, was the first to go truly global, earning $198 million worldwide as of Dec. 2, according to box office analysts at Comscore, making it the sixth most successful Japanese film of all time.
In the U.S., One Piece Film: Red was one of a string of box office hits for Crunchyroll, the anime joint venture between Japan’s Aniplex and Sony Pictures Entertainment, alongside the likes of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie.
Proof of One Piece‘s global appeal came at this year’s Lucca Comics and Games in Italy, where One Piece Film: Red had its Italian premiere and where director Gorō Taniguchi was welcomed by the hordes of One Piece fans like a returning hero.
In Italy, One Piece Film: Red has earned more than €800,000 ($841,000) to date for distributor Anime Factory, a Plaion Pictures label.
Gorō Taniguchi sat down with The Hollywood Reporter at Lucca Comics and Games to talk about the global success of One Piece, Japanese anime in general, and how the current boom will change the traditionally insular Japanese industry.
Did you expect One Piece would be such an international success?
Of course, every director wants to succeed, but no one can be certain that this will happen. When I was offered to direct One Piece Film: Red, I was asked to go beyond, to change things up: that’s the mission I was entrusted with, and I did my best to succeed.
Why do you think anime is so popular, even outside of Japan?
Anime, as a language, (has) the power to overcome national borders and reach everyone. Moreover, we have reached a very high level of skills and competency; industry members are now able to meet a wide variety of demands, whether technical or narrative, meeting the expectations of a global audience.
Streaming platforms are also investing a lot in this type of animation.
In my opinion, the big platforms have seen a certain potential in Japanese anime. Anime represents an opportunity to easily reach a lot of people . Incidentally, around the end of the ’80s, many Japanese animators worked mainly abroad, because there were other countries that wanted to develop their own anime; and, at that time, Japanese producers were not able to meet that demand. Today we are ready to serve the market. The [global] success of anime is proof of that.
What was your starting point in developing this movie and what was the biggest challenge?
It took almost three years to make One Piece Film: Red. One of the big challenges was One Piece‘s own popularity: everyone knows the brand among manga readers, as well as anime watchers; and almost everyone has heard about it at least once in their daily lives. On the other hand, though, a movie should be a party, a celebration. The challenge becomes how to convince the public, a public that is already constantly exposed to One Piece, to go to the theater.
How do you rate the state of Japanese cinema in general at the moment?
Japanese cinema, in my opinion, has reached a rather high level of maturity. Obviously, we cannot know the market’s future prospects for growth. But if things were to stay as they are now, with these same rules and limitations, things could be very hard. We’re at a crossroads. The production of live-action movies, anime and videogames can’t be solely based on the local demand; we need to start looking around and pay more attention to the overseas market. Up until now, all our productions have been enough to feed into Japan’s internal market. In the future, the most successful products are going to be those that can touch on different genres and diversify their staff, while keeping an eye on the rest of the world.
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