Toasting Toei

Toasting Toei

Julian Ryall
TOKYO -- This year, in a break from tradition, MIPTV is giving its Lifetime Achievement Award to an organization, rather than an individual. One of the oldest and most prestigious movie companies in Japan, Toei Co. will be honored during next week's market as it celebrates its 55th anniversary.

The animation arm of the Japanese giant also will be recognized for the half-century during which it has produced some of the world's best-known manga series.

Established in 1951 as a motion picture and distribution company, Toei has led the way in many areas of Japan's movie business, including producing the nation's first widescreen in 1957. The company even has diversified into real estate and hotels.

Toei also introduced karaoke video to Japan and remains the largest producer of clips for the nation's ever-popular karaoke industry.

When Toei Animation was set up in 1956, the division attempted to give the Walt Disney Co. a run for its money and succeeded in taking many of its titles overseas.

Some of the most famous names in Japanese animation, including Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe, have collaborated with Toei, which has produced TV titles include the early-1970s series "Mazinger" (which screened in the U.S. as "TranZor Z"), "Galaxy Express 999" and the "Dragon Ball" series, which aired in Japan from 1986-97.

"Dragon Ball" titles have done remarkably well as 17 feature-length movies, and the company's "Sailor Moon" and "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" franchises, which were purchased and produced in Japan, have created characters that remain icons the world over.

Toei releases about 30 feature films a year, tapping into a network of more than 150 theaters that it operates throughout Japan.

While some of the company's recent productions have been labeled as controversial -- including 2000's "Battle Royale" and its sequel, 2003's "Battle Royale II," both of which were condemned in some quarters for their violent content -- many industry observers describe them as testing barriers.

"Toei is very highly respected in the industry, and I prefer to think of them as groundbreaking," says Kaori Shoji, film critic for the Japan Times newspaper. "People might see them as controversial, but that is because they have always taken risks and supported their directors. 'Battle Royale' was made by Kinji Fukasaku, and the studio was commended for being so daring by allowing the director to have so much leeway. In some ways, it's a miracle that the films got made in Japan at all."

With the Japanese movie industry down to only four major studios, and with increased overseas competition, Toei has diversified into other real estate projects including theme parks. But with revenue up more than 19% in 2004, its core business is expected to go from strength to strength.
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