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Feature Film

Naruto Movie: A new approach for U.S. release


We don’t usually report on anime releases (we leave that to others more qualified like Anime News Network and the like), but this one is worth noting—not for the film itself, but the manner of its U.S. presentation.

Naruto, the Viz manga series-turned-anime hit series (on Cartoon Network in the U.S.), about the trials of a young ninja, is one of the most popular Japanese series now playing. Three theatrical films have been spun off and released in Japan. The first of these Daikatsugeki! Yukihime Ninpocho Dattebayo!! (English Translated Title: Snow Princess’ Book of Ninja Arts) is being theatrically released in the U.S. this year, on Wednesday June 6th at 7:00pm.

It is being shown on that day and time only, in selected theaters in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. NCM’s Fathom Events is handling this distribution plan. Fathom’s approach is somewhat unique. Taking advantage of digital distribution technology, they are creating a nationwide locked date event for this film. This forces all those interested in seeing the film to attend the one-time theatrical showing, practically assuring sold-out shows at each location.

This kind of “four-wall” event showing has been done before, but I don’t recall it being done on a national basis. As a former film distributor myself, and a student of trends in animated theatrical distribution, this strikes me as a great idea, a great way to get specialized film (particularly foreign animation) showcased.

The plain truth is that these films can’t make big money theatrically in the US. DVD, cable and Internet distribution have wiped out commercial theaters as a financially viable place to screen foreign animated films. The shame is that some of these films deserve the big screen experience.

National CineMedia (NCM), a partnership of AMC Theatres and Regal Theatres, was set up to explore alternative movie programming. They are experimenting with events centered around targeted audiences: Nascar films, faith-based movies, a Metropolitan Opera series… even a repertory screening of Dirty Dancing. Naruto the Movie (now subtitled Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow) is clearly test of the anime/animation fanbase.

I think this distribution scheme may work for them. It’ll certainly excite Naruto fans and build anticipation for the US DVD release (in September). I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on it and, if successful, NCM has the potential to become a new outlet for many international films unable to attain a US release. And that would be a good thing.

  • Inkan1969

    Some outlet. You can only see it at only one time, and if you don’t you’re screwed. I’ll never be able to see any movie distributed like this.

  • I’m not a huge fan or the show, but you’ve convinced me to show up for my local screening. I really want this to catch on.

  • Jerry, can you clarify what “digital distribution” means in this case? Will the film be distributed via a satellite download to hard drives located in the theatres? Will they be distributing DVD’s to the theaters? I’m very curious to know, as obviously, it will have an impact on distribution costs.

  • I tried watching the show and I cannot for the life of me understand what makes people my age want to watch it. I do however hope it makes it to U.S. theaters with big successes. It will be good for feature animation in general!!

  • To be fair, digital distribution, fan subs’, bittorrents, built the North American fan base for anime. I remember back in the day trading bootlegs on BBS’s but to say their was a market to monetize is an exaggeration.

    Sites like animesuki and the like came to operating agreements with many distribution company’s on both sides of the Pacific. Cutting of distribution as soon as a film or cartoon was licensed for North American audiences. Many of the big distributors used bit torrent traffic as a metric for what would sell state side. They made a lot of money doing this and the practice still goes on today.

    In fact (not a fan per say) but Naruto had exploded on bit torrents well before anyone came in to buy the license. Digital distribution is giving old and lost cartoons a chance to shine again, and it made many of the big names in distribution today. Whole networks have chosen programing based on digital traffic data, so before we say “Internet distribution have wiped out commercial theaters as a financially viable place to screen foreign animated films.” lets realize that they also built the demand in the first place.

  • I am not a fan of NARUTO, but you are absolutely right, Mr. Beck.

    This form of distribution is a terrific idea. I have seen certain films on DVD (both long and short) that I have hardly, or never been shown big screen, when they should have been.

    I wonder, what sort of possibilities could there be for these kind of films, if this form of distribution succeeds? I hope to know of something around the time this film gets released.

  • Mr. Woah

    It’s definitely a smart business choice on Viz Media’s part, and I’m all for more foreign animated movies brought over here…but there’s nothing truly watchable about Naruto. It has a good musical score, and one or two interesting characters, but that’s pretty much it.

  • Matina

    Doesn’t The Animation Show nationally distribute shorts like this every year? I thought this kind of 4-wall booking was not so uncommon.

  • Naruto has some fight scenes are incredibly animated. They even manage to get some specific expressions in there.

  • Some Ninja

    It is an interesting approach, and it’d be interesting to see how it works out. But why in the world do this with a movie that *already* has a built in audience (seeing as “Naruto” has a rabid cult following)? And if they’re doing this for the “Naruto” movie, why not “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”? (Prepares to duck and runs…)

  • Naruto does occasionally get some very nice animation from some very talented animators. Norio Matsumoto, the animator behind most of the clip Rajesh posted, being the obvious example.

    On the whole though, it is TV anime for kids, with production values that veer all over the place (I’ve seen scenes with cels upside down!) and a storyline that meanders horribly.

    I have heard good things about the quality of the movies’ animation though.

  • Mark“Clarify what “digital distributionâ€? means in this case? Will the film be distributed via a satellite download to hard drives located in the theatres? Will they be distributing DVD’s to the theaters?”

    According to their website, NCM is distributing via satellite to hard drives – no DVD distribution in this case. Go here for more information.

    Matina“Doesn’t The Animation Show nationally distribute shorts like this every year?”

    No. They go theatre to theatre, bringing a state of the art high def projector and the film program on hard drive to each venue. This NCM distrubtion model is like a closed circuit digital hi-def broadcast going out simultaneously. They have a circuit (or network) of 119 theatres (300 screens) across the country hooked up to their “proprietary software and network technologies”.

    “I thought this kind of 4-wall booking was not so uncommon.”

    As I said in my post, this kind of “4-wall event showing has been done before”, but the difference is the large amount of theatres doing it all at once, the same day and date.

  • “The plain truth is that these films can’t make big money theatrically in the US. DVD, cable and Internet distribution have wiped out commercial theaters as a financially viable place to screen foreign animated films. The shame is that some of these films deserve the big screen experience.”

    For the most part, I’d agree with you, but I think it’s more of a distribution problem than anything. You need more than the multiplex chain playing the same 10 lousy studio pictures over and over. You need more independent-minded theatres.

    Here in Minneapolis, there is the Lagoon and Uptown theatres, which focuses purely on foreign and indie films, documentaries and animation. Triplets of Bellville and Innocence played here for lengthy runs and did very well.

    One notable exception was Tokyo Godfathers, which was supposed to play at The Lagoon, but was bumped at the last minute to the tiny University of MN’s U Film Society auditorium. It only played one weekend, and barely anybody showed up, thanks to the nonexistent advertising and promotion. I think I was the only one there, apart form three or four others.

    Have I mentioned that college film societies are dead and buried? This generation is too fucking stupid to bother with anything besides fart jokes and explosions and frat-boy-induced riots. Hideously voilent and dumb pictures like “Boondock Saints,” for example. Only one example, sure, but it’s pretty easy to see that these kids are a lot dumber than their parents. Consequences of growing up pampered and spoiled, methinks. But maybe I’m just cranky because I was never invited to the frat parties. Whatever. Grain of salt.

    In any event, I still hold out the hope that American audiences could embrace more diverse films if those films were actually made available to them. For foreign animation, the quintessential example is of course Hayao Miyazaki, whose last two Studio Ghibli films were buried alive by Disney (despite the excellent localization efforts from Pixar). Had Howl’s Moving Castle been allowed to be seen on more than 37 or 202 screens, it would have been a great success. The traffic to my website’s movie reviews attest to this fact. The fans are definitely out there.

    But it wouldn’t do good for traditional animation to make a “comeback” in the public eye, would it? Now that Disney et al have invested enormous funds in scrapping everything in favor of CGI cartoons. Again, my own personal theory. Grain of salt.

  • Isn’t showing a foreign animated movie for one time only in select cities worse than giving it a regular limited release?

    How is that helping feature animation?

  • Matina

    Thanks for the explanation Jerry!

  • s!

    For this to work more than one showing will be required. The only people who will benefit from this showing will be the hardcore fans who know about this in the first place.

    I seriously doubt this will be heavily advertised.

  • Interesting stuff Jerry. I thought the idea sounded lame at first, but then your thoughts and expansions convinced me otherwise. Broadly speaking this is a great way to bring ‘event’ showings to struggling smaller theatres (although do smaller theatres even have digital distribution set ups).

    I was disheartened by your opening statement though – “We leave that to others more qualified”.

    Disheartened, because ‘those more qualified’ are rarely qualified in the slightest. Anime specific sites and communities are always far too fan-culture centric, and approach anime from a perspective that is completely alienating and horrifying to most (broader) animation enthusiasts. Which is largely why so few animation proffesionals in the west have the appreciation and knowledge of anime that they naturaly should.

    It’s places like The Brew that should really be doing more anime reportage that ISN’T slanted for the whole cosplay demographic.

    Anyway, I think starting Streamline Pictures makes you pretty qualified. :)

  • Bob Lindstrom

    Eli Landau’s short-lived American Film Theater also used this limited showing strategy on a national basis in the early ’70s.

  • Thx! That is very helpful. CONGRATULATIONS! :-)

  • Karma

    Good plan. It’s got to be the only way to get people who don’t already like this wretched and horribly overrated anime to stand watching the ugly character designs, insipid characters, bad dubbing, and inane product which re-creates the irritation and nausea by replacing the wooden Dragonball Z characters with ninjas in an inspidly drawn out story.

    And of course, those who already waste their lives devoting their time to this inspid farce (This is coming from someone who likes anime, btw) will already go see it, and feel content in their delusion that they havn’t wasted their own time. Sorry if I sound a bit negative towards the show, but Naruto is possibly the 3rd or 4th worst anime released into the US for mass consumption.

    However, on the subject of the article, this is a brilliant market strategy. Of course, it reeks of desperation, leaving no doubt of the quailty of the show and most likely the film itself. I have to give them points for that. For one day, they can attract a large audience and say it was a hit theatrical release… even if they only manage to get 30 crazed local Naruto fans to bother coming by.

  • Sharon

    I LOVE Naruto, and I live in canada, so the national one day screening won’t even be here. I would LOVE to see the movie in theatres because it would be a great thing for all Naruto fans (I know a ton of them). Come to Canadian theatres Naruto!

  • Masterofinformation

    Oh you do know there is 4 movies right?

    From what this tells us. Naruto dies.


  • w00t

    Definitely will be a good movie. I am a hardcore fan of the show, but what sucks is there’s no way in hell that I will be able to see the “1-time only” showing in select theaters, because I live in Florida, and there are no 1-time showings in Florida, which I’m f***g pissed about!!!! For this to be a success they need to definitely make more than a 1-time showing, and not in select theaters, but in almost every theater in the US. Also, they not better not give it a G or PG rating, because it cuts out a lot of the cursing and viloence, which is why I dislike the English version, (which was made for god damn 10-year-olds!!!!!!11!!!!!1!!), but I still like it ’cause it’s in my native tongue, however I’ve watched every episode online, even Shippuuden, which is when they’re 2 1/2 years older. So, anyway, they, really need to give it more releases in more theaters, and, hell, I guess I don’t care if it gets a PG rating, as long as I get to see it on the big screen!!!

  • isaac r

    well i have seen the japanese version (subbed) and i acualy sat by my computer screen and watched and read it for a hour and a half.
    i must say it is a vary good story. so i would diff. recomend seeing it!!!!

  • isaac r


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  • i love naruto a lot and this is a good movie but i like the 2 movie better its really funny and intertaning and this one to but i like the other one butter i dident see the 3 or 4 one but i bet thos are good to if you want to see them just go on thats were i found them anyway there is a lot of actin in this movie and fighting and saving its a really good movie at least its coming out in june 2007 even look on but its a really good movie. ^^

  • MewCocoa

    I wish Naruto would come to theaters here in Canada. The Full Metal Alchemist Movie didn’t even come out here, but it did in the US! (Good thing I got the DVD). Why don’t any anime movies get shown out here in Canada? What’s wrong with us?!

  • I hope it comes out on DVD in the US! That would suck if someone couldn’t go and see it the date and time it comes out! Also, I hope it plays at a theater near me ’cause I’m buying advance tickets once I find out that they go on sale! =D

  • Prequarius

    I’m a devout fan. I’d like to catch up on more manga, but waiting for the cartoons (fansubbed) are worth the wait. This is the first movie I believe and is the better one of the 3. I have seen the first two, but they are all kind of weak. I hate when a large anime title gets a movie. It usually never has anything to do with the main story line, and anything experience wise or final goal never shows up in the main story. Pokemon was another cartoon that did this, so was dragonball. The story line is mundane, but the animation is really good. Just watch some of the new naruto shippÅ«den episodes and remain satisfied.

  • Thalia

    I’ve actually seen the movie, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. But I’m enough of a fan to want to see it in the theater.

    I do have a question though, does anyone know how ticket sales are done? Are they being sold online, or does this kind of showing only allow tickets to be bought on the same day? thanks.

  • Ethan

    Naruto is awsome…in Japanese with english subs, however the American version with cut out scenes, words, and crappy voic acting makes me want to stab myself in the foot. So if it in in english It’s defanitly not worth watching ide rather just watch the Japanese version from the internet.

  • Mikoto~chan

    I have seen all the movie except for the fourth and I think they’re all great and I still want to see the on the big screen! I have also seen Shippuuden and belive its the best thing that hit the internet and Japan! Naruto is a great anime and any one who says otherwise can site down and litsen to me lecture for hours about how good of a show it is.

  • I like naruto

  • trinigirl

    does anybody kno if their going to show it in long island please tell me

  • Lin

    I like like naruto I watch the shows and I buy the movies I want the DvD to come out in the U.S. every were. so that everone can enjoy naruto and anime. People how don’t like anime should be quite and be openminded. I wound like to own all the naruto dvd I can.

  • Vegeta3773

    The first and second japanese Naruto movies were awsome but the third sucked and so will the english version of the first…I think but I hope it does’t because then it makes anime haters who see it hate anime more and I can’t blame them. “Revided audio”, cut scenes and much more. Why can’t viz translate things how they were meant to be heard and don’t edit out every drop of blood.At least they keep the japanese background audio..Thank god could you imagine hearing linkin park in a fight scene agh. No anime is better than DBZ Believe it

  • these movies suck balls. any anime lover would hate it if they saw it. Cloud out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • marc

    naruto so great!!!!!!

  • Oh yeah… Naruto rocks!

  • Hi,
    I am Genine Balakwa and i am a fan of Naruto.I buy stuff related to Naruto.Sakura is my favourite character as she is hilarious.