Michiko Miyata was never a fan of Disney movies, thinking they were only for young people. So imagine her surprise when she saw Disney’s latest animated film about a princess with ice powers and her sister.

“I was touched by the story about the love of sisters. The movie was also a reaffirmation of being true to one’s feelings,” said the 65-year-old Saitama resident, who watched it with her husband.

Miyata is among a throng of women in Japan who have joined moviegoers across the globe in embracing Disney’s 2013 megahit “Frozen,” which has set box office records worldwide. The film also won an Academy Award for its anthem song, “Let It Go,” spurred future spin-offs such as a Broadway musical and an ice show, and fueled huge music and toy sales.

Titled “Anna and the Snow Queen” for the Japanese market, the movie has become the third best-selling film of all time in Japan since its premiere this past March. According to Walt Disney Studios Japan, the movie has generated box office revenues of more than 20.3 billion yen. The film continues to be shown in theaters.
Dozens of Japanese women from their 20s to their 60s could be seen leaving a weekday showing at Toho Cinemas Scala-za in Hibiya.

“This is a film that even adults can enjoy,” said a 30-year-old Tökyö clerical worker, enthusiastically. Two other women in their 50s said they were impressed by the film’s beautiful images and music that was so much like a stage musical.

Tami Ihara, executive director of the marketing studios of Walt Disney Co. (Japan) Ltd., said the movie’s success is due to the marketing strategy adopted for Japan, which focused on the characters of the two heroines — Elsa, the cool Snow Queen, and her younger, perky sister named Princess Anna.

“Unlike in the United States and other nations, we deviated from the strategy of catering to families and specifically targeted Japanese women, who have the power to spur consumption and create a fad,” Ihara said.

Japan was the last country to screen “Frozen,” but the craze continues due to a string of rare promotional moves by the Japanese unit of Walt Disney Co., such as releasing a full trailer of “Let It Go” in theaters before the film was released. A sing-along version was also shown from April.

“In particular, ‘Let It Go’ has struck a chord in Japanese people’s hearts and emerged as a cheer-up song for women,” said Akio Doteuchi, a senior researcher on social development with NLI Research Institute.

Explaining why people in Japan have identified with the song, Doteuchi said both women and men are “seeking a society that is not boxed in a stereotype.”

He said the film is a bright spot at a time when Japan is experiencing a big income gap among its citizens and many of its young people are in non-regular jobs.

The film has also defied a trend toward sluggish consumer spending following Japan’s consumption tax hike by 3 percentage points in April. Doteuchi noted that adults are willing to pay to watch movies for the “experience” they get out of it.

“Women who are in their 30s and now mothers are the generation that watched ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Little Mermaid’ as children, and they spend money on Disney for themselves, and not necessarily for their children,” Ihara said, adding that the Disney culture embedded in the Japanese public has taken root, thanks to Tökyö Disneyland.

Disney’s Japanese unit also tapped into Japanese women’s love of musicals, inspired by the success of the 2012 film, “Les Miserables,” Ihara said.

Though not a musical, the next Disney film for Japan, titled “Baymax,” is due out in December and hopes to ride the momentum created by “Frozen,” and again target Japanese woman by appealing to the title character, this time a health care robot.

“I believe Japanese girls and women will come to love ‘Baymax’ for its cuddly appearance, similar to Hello Kitty, in that it has only eyes and no mouth, and for its role in giving care when so many people in modern-day society are stressed,” Ihara said.

With “Frozen” and “Baymax” coming at a time Walt Disney Co. (Japan) Ltd. has been successful in marketing merchandise under the Disney-for-adults concept for the past two to three years, the challenge lies in making Disney films relevant to adult moviegoers as well.

“The key really is how much of the character will be accepted and identified by the audience,” Ihara said. — by May Masangkay


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