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What did Japan do to deserve such ingratitude?

Americans and Europeans generally look at Japan with a combination of fear, resentment and jealousy, rooted in an undefined sense of being faced by a serious economic threat.

For instance, last year alone, Japanese companies-some of them in such unrelated fields as milk processing-purchased 43 resorts in the U.S., 11 of them with golf courses attached.

The Americans who read about this, along with the numerous Japanese acquisitions of huge entertainment companies like Columbia Pictures, MCA and small companies like Fox/Lorber, react with predictable anxiety, sensing that Japan is "buying up America."

There is also a prevailing feeling that, while Japan appears to have unlimited access to the vast American market, the U.S. companies still have to fight an uphill battle, to be able to freely sell their goods in Japan.

But, while it is true that the Japanese resist American rice imports, and construction companies have a tough time bidding for projects in Japan, the Japanese market outranks all other world territories for the major U.S. film companies.

According to figures provided by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Japanese market delivered $236.7 million to the U.S. majors in film rentals during 1990, an increase of 17 per cent over 1989. Similarly, in 1990, the U.S. independents generated $150 million from Japan.

American film executives tend to be less critical of Japanese forays into the U.S., though Sony's acquisition of Columbia Pictures unleashed a storm of anger in the film community: thus raising questions of "foreign domination." However, Americans were willing to accept Sony management's protests that this was purely an investment, and that there would be no outside interference with the new (Sony-installed) Columbia management.

Still, some inroads are being made in the U.S. infiltration of the Japanese market. The Japanese networks are looking for co-productions with the Americans (such as Pearl Harbor documentaries made by both CBS and ABC with Japanese network partners).

The Japanese in the U.S. are finding it difficult to overcome American suspicions, in the face of their continuing acquisitions in America. In a survey on Japanese companies in American communities, the Japan Society states in the introduction:

"Japanese direct investment in the U.S. has become a divisive issue in America and a thorn in the U.S.-Japan relationship."

It bothers the Japanese government that, while Japanese take-overs and investments in the U.S. make headlines, much larger British and Dutch stakes in U.S. industries and properties are rarely mentioned.

Yet, Japanese investment in the U.S. grew at a rate of 35 percent between 1980 and 1989, reaching a cumulative $70 billion. By the end of this decade, economists expect the Japanese to overtake Britain, as the largest direct investor in the U.S.

An opinion poll conducted for the Japan Society by SRI International and the Wirthlin Group showed that 41 per cent of the Americans interviewed acknowledged that they viewed Canadian, British, German or Korean investments differently from those made by Japan. A substantial 23.3 per cent said they viewed the investment very differently" when it came from Japan.

The Japan Society survey found that 84.3 per cent of all American queried felt Japan was America's greatest economic competitor, and 64.4 per cent were convinced that Japanese investors "have more influence in the U.S. than investors from other countries."

Japanese commercial aggressiveness finds a negative echo elsewhere too. Edith Cresson, the French prime minister, recently called Japanese industries "aggressors" and went as far as to say that Japan was "conspiring to conquer the world."

A draft report of a CIA-sponsored conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology found Japan bent on "unequivocal economic dominance" of the world. The report described Japan as "a predatory, gloomy nation run by a bureaucratic oligarchy ... an immoral, manipulative and controlling culture." But, there is a distinct difference between American popular and business opinion when it comes to the Japanese.

The "public" finds the new Japanese prosperity and aggressive investment policy in the U. S. hard to swallow. Mostly unmentioned, but definitely in the picture, are the memories of World War 11, which have not altogether faded and are very much alive in the older generation.

Within the American business community, there is a keen awareness of the positive role Japanese investment plays in the U.S., though there are plenty of complaints. For instance, there is the charge that new Japanese employers reserve the best jobs in the U.S. plants for Japanese managers, even though Japanese employ only one per cent of the American workforce. Some Americans accuse Japanese employers of job discrimination, and there have been several lawsuits.

Japanese work ethics differ drastically from those in the U. S. In Japan, men and women become a living, breathing, highly disciplined part of "the company." In the U.S., their role as individuals remains uppermost with the company rating second.

Allen Sinai, the executive vp of The Boston Company, noting that Japan rates second as the U.S. export market (after Canada), said, "Whether we like it or not, we are inextricably linked together economically ... The U.S. needs Japan more than Japan needs us. Without Japanese investors purchasing 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the U.S. Treasury securities offered since 1986, our interest rates would have been higher."

That's the overall picture. When it comes to entertainment, and particularly films and television, the situation clearly favors the Americans in a major way. Hollywood movies-and some TV shows-are shown, though they hardly predominate. While they may privately have their misgivings-and American executives are fully aware of public reaction-U.S. producers, big and small, are overtly eager to tap into the available Japanese millions. More and more Japanese money is expected to flow into Hollywood projects, via the majors or the independents.

It's a good deal all around, at least for the moment, until the Japanese discover the unpredictability of international movie appeal, particularly in the American market.

Japanese reasoning appears to focus on getting an entry into the U.S. market. In the case of Sony, Matsushita and others, it's also a question of matching the ownership of software to their manufacture of the electronic hardware side of things, expensive as that procedure may turn out to be.
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Title Annotation:US film companies and the Japanese market
Author:Hift, Fred
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Movies carry TV schedules, packages and other goodies.
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