Father of Pokémon: Japanese producer Masakazu Kubo is saluted as Copyright Educator

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Masakazu Kubo, VP of the Intellectual Property Association of Japan and director of the international media business department at Shogakukan Inc., will be presented with the Motion Picture Association’s “Asia-Pacific Copyright Educator (ACE) Award” at CineAsia 2018.

Kubo served many years as the executive producer of the Pokémon television anime series and movies and is known as the “Father of Pokémon.” His latest project is the theatrical animated movie Detective Conan Zero the Enforcer, which was the top theatrical film for seven straight weeks after its launch on April 13, 2018, and Japan’s number-one film for the first half of 2018, with total box office of more than JPY 9.1 billion.

Kubo joined Shogakukan Inc. after high school. He worked as an editor for the young boys’ comic magazine Monthly Coro Coro Comic for 14 years and was editor of such hit manga series as “Obocchama kun.” In 1995, he was asked to develop a manga series for Pokémon by Nintendo and from there continued to be deeply involved with the Pokémon franchise. The MPA conducted the following interview:

As a well-known producer, how do you view the current state of the local film industry and where is it heading?

I believe Japan’s movie market is full of opportunities. Small-budget movies have the potential to earn large box-office receipts. Your Name is probably well known to anime fans around the world, and One Cut of the Dead [2018], which was produced with a JPY2 million budget, earned over JPY3 billion at the box office. To put it another way, while the Japanese film market is full of opportunities, it is also very competitive. The Shogakukan group has investments in the animated theatrical movies for Doraemon, Pokémon and Detective Conan, which have all continued for over 20 years and appeal to two generations. Doraemon and Detective Conan in particular have had an incredible year, with the latest releases recording the best box-office results for each respective series. While we are very happy about this, it also puts a lot of pressure on next year’s release. We will continue to support each production committee and face the next challenge.

You have played such an important role in advocating site-blocking in Japan. Why do you think this is an important step towards a better digital ecosystem for Japan, especially with the launch of the “Cool Japan” initiative?

The “Cool Japan” initiative encompasses a wide range of contemporary Japanese culture and products such as animations, manga, characters and games, as well as new culture such as robotics and even Japanese cuisine. That said, manga and anime were already very popular well before the beginning of the “Cool Japan” initiative and therefore are an important element of the government's "Cool Japan" strategy to promote Japanese cultural products overseas. If manga piracy continues, it will become economically difficult for creators to continue releasing new work. As a result, Japanese culture becomes weak and fans, not only in Japan but the entire world, will find they can no longer enjoy this Japanese culture. Timely and aggressive action needs to be taken to address infringing content on the Internet.

How do you think the government's decision on site-blocking will affect Japan’s film industry and economy?

As Internet technology progresses, pirate sites also evolve. There are many different styles of pirate sites now and we are facing challenges to address these. Shogakukan alone continues to file up to 300,000 requests to delete infringing content on a regular basis, and we are feeling the limit of such methods. The Japanese manga and animation industry will continue to weaken. I believe blocking access to well-known pirate sites is an effective method; however, consensus on implementing these actions has not aligned within the Japanese government’s task force. This is very disappointing.  If you look at cases of site-blocking performed overseas, one can see that there are different levels and methods of site-blocking and these have been measured to be effective to protect copyright. I also believe there are better actions available to deal with people who consume pirate content. These are people who love these creations and their creators, and I do understand their plight. I think site-blocking technology will continue to advance and I believe we should continue to try these legal options on an experimental basis for further research.

What were some of the strategies that contributed to Pokémon’s continuous global success and were there any pitfalls?

Pokémon has three different appealing mediums of entertainment: videogames, animation and card games. If you look at the global entertainment market, only Pokémon has three different media where you can enjoy high-quality entertainment. Pokémon GO! is a global success twenty years after the birth of the franchise, proving the brand is still very strong. Next year we will see a Hollywood live-action movie release. Pokémon is the first Asian property that is recognized globally. I hope everyone will continue to support the movies. Looking back, there were also lots of mistakes, but I recall them fondly now. When you have such a big hit, there are also legal suits that follow. Overcoming these trials gave me great experience and power to move forward.