Japanese Animators Fight for Respect at Home Despite Global Success

Eto Mori/Fuji Television Network/Sunrise/Dentsu/Aniplex/Sony Music Entertainment/Toho
Keiichi Hara's 2010 release 'Colorful' addressed teen suicide.

Keiichi Hara, the subject of an animation sidebar at the Tokyo Film Festival, says there is still snobbery about anime, though less than in the past.

It has legions of fans worldwide and is arguably the country's largest cultural export, yet some within Japan's $16 billion anime industry believe the art form still fails to get the respect it deserves at home. Since 2014, the Tokyo Film Festival has tried to address the problem with a sidebar devoted to Japan's greatest animators. While the subject of this year's focus, Keiichi Hara, welcomes the increased attention, he thinks even more could be done. "If you look at other major festivals, Hayao Miyazaki won the Golden Bear at Berlin," he notes, referring to his victory for Spirited Away in 2002, which went on to win an Oscar. "It feels kind of odd that there is no case like that in Japan, the country in the world that produces the most anime."

Beginning his directing career in the early 1980s on TV and movie productions of the megahit anime Doraemon, Hara, 58, continued into the 1990s and early 2000s working on another major kids anime franchise, Crayon Shin-chan. He moved on to more adult fare with the award-winning Summer Days With Coo in 2007, followed in 2010 by Colorful, a complex examination of teenage suicide, a major problem in Japan.

"I want to make anime films that can hold their own beside live action," declares Hara, who says there is still snobbery about anime, though less than in the past. "I'm no longer embarrassed to say I'm an anime director. Now I can be proud."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.