Art films are aimed at small niche market audiences, which means they can rarely get the financial backing that will permit large production budgets, expensive special effects, costly celebrity actors, or huge advertising campaigns, as are used in widely released mainstream blockbuster films. Art-film directors make up for these constraints by creating a different type of film, which typically uses lesser-known film actors (or even amateur actors) and modest sets to make films that focus much more on developing ideas or exploring new narrative techniques or film-making conventions.
Furthermore, a certain degree of experience and knowledge are required to understand or appreciate such films; one mid-1990s art film was called “largely a cerebral experience” that one enjoys “because of what you know about film”. This contrasts sharply with mainstream “blockbuster” films, which are geared more towards escapism and pure entertainment. For promotion, art films rely on the publicity generated from film critics’ reviews, discussion of their film by arts columnists, commentators and bloggers, and “word-of-mouth” promotion by audience members. Since art films have small initial investment costs, they only need to appeal to a small portion of the mainstream viewing audiences to become financially viable.
I dislike a lot of the stereotypical quirks of anime, but I recognize that the fanatical anime otaku who buy anime Blu-ray disks demand those quirks.
Fanatical anime otaku are a small portion of Japan, and a smaller portion of the planet, and yet they provide both capital and word-of-mouth that allows Japanese auteurs to reach a global audience.
Sadly, a great deal of anime is not artsy cinema – a lot of anime is just competently executed television, with predictable, crowd-pleasing stereotypes and cliches. And in particular, I point to Stella Jogakuin.
In the end, Stella Jogakuin just cares about meeting low expectations very reliably. All the things that this show delivers – the angst, the sentimentality, the plot twists, the cute girls doing cute things, the trite journey of adolescent self-discovery – this is not ground-breaking. This is not ambitious. This is not teaching us a genuinely challenging lesson about life, unless we are seven-year-olds who got tired of watching DBZ. I’m sure that the staff worked hard on it. I’m sure they earned their pay. I don’t like the show, and I don’t enjoy watching it, but I am forcing myself to finish it because I want to be able to take apart the whole thing, start to finish, and be able to analyze every single grudge that I hold against it. I won’t bother posting that analysis. It would be too boring to inflict on you, noble reader of gentle birth. But there is a lesson to be learned from my compulsion to analyze art that I don’t enjoy.
I enjoy the analysis of art far more than I enjoy art itself. I enjoy the analysis of games with rules far more than I enjoy playing such games. When I watch a show and take notes, I’m not just watching the show, I’m watching myself watching the show; I’m taking notes on how I take notes.
I could try to write a crowd-pleasing blog with self-serving linkfests. (Too often, mutual linkage is an ego-boosting little game. Blog A links to Blog B and doesn’t bother asking for the return of the favor – but often bloggers who don’t really respect each other end up promoting each other and inflating each others’ egos in a fake little echo chamber. And when Blog B links Blog A, what an ego boost it is! That’s the reason I took down my blogroll, with its many dozens of links. I honestly respected about half the blogs on it; the others were just an exercise in concealing my self-promoting narcissism.)
I plan to blog a bit less about current events, a bit less about Plato, and a bit more about anime. We shall see whether the resulting blog posts turn out to be “largely a cerebral experience” that one enjoys “because of what you know about film”.
I plan to go through my archive and either cull old posts or turn them into permanent pages. I plan to post less often. This will almost certainly drive down my hit count and make my narcissistic little ego feel as if it is suffocating. I expect the exercise will build character.
It’s a deep and profound secret of life that if you keep your expectations of the outside world low enough, you won’t be disappointed. But the flip side of that is that you have to demand high performance from yourself. You have to applaud your amazing efforts, and you have to push yourself to achieve more. You can’t settle for low expectations of your own performance, even if your self-assigned task is just to analyze art house cinema.