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.