Monday, January 19, 2015

“Unbroken,” Coming to Your Metropolitan Center Sometime in the Indefinite Future?

James Gibney’s Bloomberg op-ed on Angelina Jolie’s new film Unbroken is probably as evenhanded as it gets coming from an American. The writer not only identifies it as “really much less about Japanese brutality than the resilience of the human spirit” but also states that “(a)ny forthright exploration of Japan's wartime cruelties, of course, must be matched by an acknowledgment of the battlefield savagery of U.S. troops in the Pacific.” But why would he guess that “‘Unbroken’ does not yet—and may never—have a release date” in Japan? Why not take Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell at his word when he says, “Obviously, the content of the book is a difficult one in the Japanese market… So we're probably going to wait a little bit and release it later in the year there than in the rest of the world. We're going to delay it a little bit so we can have a different kind of launch there”? Why not come back to this, say, the next New Year’s? In the meantime, the following is my prediction and my reasons for it. It should be at least as reliable as my projection of a Hosono-Nagatsuma runoff for the DPJ leadership election.

Unbroken will be shown in a very small number of largely art film theaters, almost exclusively in metropolitan areas, then go straight to DVD. I do not see a prison film that 1) has an unfamiliar non-Japanese actor playing the hero, 2) takes place in a world that most of the viewers will not be familiar with, 3) is not a comedy, and 4) does not feature a successful breakout having much of a chance at the box office. But limited as it may be, I do believe that there is a market for the film that will be amplified by the commotion from the far-right that will flare up again when the release here is announced, providing the film with publicity that would normally be unavailable. There’s name recognition for the director, too. (Would the film even have been made if no one with Angelina Jolie’s Hollywood connections and clout had been involved?)

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