A few weeks ago, while sitting in on the Flavors of Youth premiere at Anime Expo, I realized that I was seated near John Derderian. I took the opportunity to commend him on his performance at the Netflix Loves Anime panel that he hosted before: the first question was a rather heated one regarding simulcast schedules and new properties. He handled the question with poise before recovering the Q&A segment and wrapping up the panel on a positive note. John thanked me for the compliment and introduced me to his colleague, Mr. Taito Okiura, Director of Anime at Netflix based out of Japan
Knowing that this is a busy time for many in the industry (the convention hustle is real, folks) I followed up about a week later and over the course of the next week we were able to hammer out a time to discuss his work at Netflix Japan.
Mr. Okiura joined Netflix just under a year ago after acquiring nearly 14 years of industry experience, the bulk of which was spent as President and Co-Founder of David Production Inc.
During his time with David Production, Mr. Okiura oversaw numerous anime projects, most notably the adaptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Even now, after Mr. Okiura’s departure, David Production is behind the quirky and thoroughly entertaining Cells at Work!
Intrigued by his background, and curious regarding his vision for anime at Netflix going forward, I was thrilled that we got a chance to actually get on a call and talk about it, digital-face to digital-face:
Your title is “Director of Anime” at Netflix Japan – can you tell us a little more about what that means? What are your major responsibilities in this role?
My mission is simple: to prepare a good anime slate, whether they’re licensed shows or independently produced shows, and bring them to the global customers of Netflix.
A simple mission…but a powerful one for your fans.
Yes, it’s a huge responsibility.
Anime fans have very high standards, absolutely… Tell us a little bit more about your background with anime, since you had some time in the industry before joining Netflix. What were some of your inspirations growing up, and how did you bring those influences into your work as an adult?
I was just an ordinary boy. When I was a small boy, there were lots of anime shows available on daytime broadcast [TV] – Doraemon, Lupin, Dragonball… some great primetime shows. I enjoyed watching those shows as well as live action shows like Kamen Raider. As I grew up, I kind of graduated from anime and moved towards more live action titles. I enjoyed Sci-Fi and action.
I actually started my career in advertising, but I wanted to get into the motion picture business, live-action, to be honest. Anime was my entry point. Now, I’ve spent 14 years in this business.
I remember Mamoru Oshii, a very famous anime director in Japan. He was a live-action enthusiast as well, and wanted to get into the motion picture business. He ended up in anime. This was the story I had heard before.
Anyway, I ended up getting into the anime business, and I consider myself very lucky to survive in this industry. I was very fortunate to know great, talented people in anime. I’m very happy that I can continue to work in the anime field right now as part of a global, internet TV organization.
Netflix Japan is unique in that it’s able to offer simulcast schedules for some of the anime licenses it acquires – broadcasting it weekly as it airs. This is something that a lot of fans in the US are always asking for as Netflix acquires more popular series each season. How has Netflix Japan handled the simulcast strategy for anime? Has it proved to be disruptive to the overall service, or are fans just familiar with watching it like that?
Just to clarify, we have some shows locally available, in Japan only, where we video-stream TV anime shows in “day-after” broadcast format. We make those shows available to serve local customers needs. For some shows, we licensed global distribution rights. This is when we make the show available all at once, presenting over 130 million global subscribers the opportunity to watch the show with the original Japanese audio and subtitles in their local language or in dubbed audio. It takes time to create world-class subtitles and dubbed audio for these shows , but in doing so, we hope to serve larger customer needs on a global basis. Our belief is that maintaining this all-at-once format is the best way to serve our global customers needs.
We understand there are some fans who want a global simulcast, but we believe that the all-at-once distribution window is best in order to maintain the quality of production.
So, from the sounds of it, day-after broadcast format is made available in Japan because you’re addressing a more local need. Since Netflix is in over 190 countries, a global simulcast strategy isn’t really plausible because it’s not just about releasing it in English or to the US, but to all of the other places where Netflix is at the same time, and that’s a very heavy burden for Netflix to carry in order to put it out the next day.
Right. We have a quality control procedure that requires some lead-time, which means that simulcast is not the solution for us. Our decision is to prioritize the quality of the dubbing and subtitles in multiple languages to serve global subscriber expectations. Not only should they be offered the choice to watch with the original Japanese audio or dubbed audio in their local language, there is an expectation on Netflix that subscribers can watch shows in their entirety. Serving those needs requires more time to deliver.
Netflix approached you numerous times about joining their team, but you weren’t willing to go. In fact, you once said that you told them on the phone you weren’t sure how serious Netflix was about anime, and then you hung up on them! When you decided to join the company just under a year ago, what steps did you take to change Netflix’s view, and treatment of, anime?
To be clear, I was always fascinated by Netflix. It’s my favorite service. I used to run my own anime studio, and put simply – I wasn’t available to change my job. *laughs* I used to run a studio called David Production, which I created over a dozen years ago. I was the owner, so I wasn’t available. The owner cannot leave the company. I ended up selling the studio to Fuji Television 3 or 4 years ago, but I continued to be the president. So, I thought I would end up working at David Production until I die. *laughs*
I was very fortunate to hire a very experienced anime executive, whose name is Shuichirō Tanaka. He was the ex-president of Tatsunoko Production. So he has exactly the same skill-set as me, and also he has some great connections in the industry. There’s another co-founder of David Production, which is Kōji Kajita, the current president of David Production. The combination of Kōji and Shuichirō can replace me.
*laughs* With their powers combined, huh?
*laughs* I was very fortunate to be able to hire someone who could replace me, and very proud to be able to hire such a talented guy. Shuichirō joined David Production last year, and I suddenly realized “Oh, I can leave David Production!” *laughs* It was pure coincidence that Netflix was looking for a Director of Anime. I was very surprised that this global internet organization was hunting for anime-specific content executive. Something was going on, and I couldn’t resist.
It’s true that Netflix approached me several times in the past, but this time I applied myself. My perception of Netflix has not changed.
What were some of your first steps in elevating anime the way that you have at Netflix?
We announced a partnership with Production I.G. and Bones on January 31st of this year. Historically we’ve been licensing shows that outside, independent producers made. Now we’re making a strategic move where we’re working with those premium anime studios directly to produce our own shows. This is a big, strategic move.
We continue to work with independent producers – we license their good shows. We still have limited resources in-house, so we still work with talented, independent producers.
This partnership with Production I.G. and Bones is the initiative that we’ve created.
The sheer volume of available anime today seems surreal for fans like myself who grew up purchasing hard-to-find VHS and DVD releases of whatever shows could make it to the US. Now, every season brings a flurry of new shows to various streaming platforms. With so much out there now, it’s even harder for anime fans to find the real quality shows each season. When you’re looking at acquiring licenses and content for Netflix, what are you looking for?
The anime team based out of Japan is currently focusing on teenage and young-adult themed shows, as opposed to kids and family animation. We have a separate kids and family team based out of Los Angeles, while we’re based out of Tokyo.
Our focus is edgy shows: sci-fi, action, fantasy…that relatively travel easily on a global scale. This is opposed to genres like comedy or slice of life, which can be difficult to translate for global customers. So sci-fi, action…zombie…vampire or “underground fight-club situations” *laughs* those are our favorites.
We have a chief anime producer here at Netflix, his name is Yoshiki Sakurai, who sits here next to me. He worked at Production I.G. for 16 years. He was the producer and screenplay writer of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and the producer of Hirune Hime [Napping Princess]. He also wrote for Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya screenplay. He’s a top anime producer/screenplay writer. I’m very excited to work with him as his colleague. His addition to the team will strengthen the foundation for producing and sourcing good shows for Netflix.
We’d like to thank Mr. Okiura for coordinating this interview.