CEATEC 2008: how a 70-year-old film will boost Blu-ray in Japan

My day at the show rounded up with a panel discussion on Blu-ray, and how it sits in the Japanese and world markets right now.

Well, I say a panel discussion - most of the time was taken up with a lengthy diatribe by reviewer Reiji Asakura about how Blu-ray changed his life.

Asakura describes himself with due modesty as 'Master of Picture Quality', spent most of his speech talking about how recordable Blu-ray simplified his task of testing broadcast TV programmes - not sure why, since one would assume that unless the reader had recorded the same programme they wouldn't have much chance to watch it after reading the review.

Anyway, Blu-ray recording makes all this 'Air check' reviewing much simpler than it used to be with VHS tape, apparently.

Blown away
We saw his viewing room, and the piles of discs everywhere, we saw images of his favourite discs - the import ones, of course. not the ones the people in the audience would buy - and we heard how famous people had been blown away by the picture quality he achieved on his 150in screen in his room.

We even saw the notes they had written to him, though of course the ones from consumer electronics company employees saying how Sensei Reiji's presentation had opened their eyes to what Blu-ray could truly do were, of course, anonymous.

Oh, and we got extensive insights into Sensei Reiji's views on a broadcast documentary about the composition of the Roberta Flack hit Killing Me Softly. In fact, we watched enraptured as a couple of paragraphs of this review were typed, character by character, on the huge screen above the panel, to these eyes proving only that the Master of Picture Quality types very slowly indeed.

All this followed brief presentations from some industry luminaries, and took up a good half of the hour allocated for the session.

No wonder the chap in the front row of the huge meeting room nodded off.

Why Blu-ray is greener
Anyway – and despite the contribution of anime director Shumei Morita, who told us that Blu-ray was great because it allowed us to see all the space in his new movie where a little boy goes to the moon, that it was greener because it was all digital and so animators didn’t waste so much paper making lots of drawings, and that with Blu-ray Disc you could ‘enjoy the realism of computer animation’ – there was some meat on the bones of the session.

Takayuki Tsukakoshi, CEO of Walt Disney Home Entertainment Japan, and the chairman of the newly formed Digital Entertainment Group Japan, spoke about the impact of the format on the market so far. But I sincerely hope the simultaneous translator in my earpiece got it wrong when it was said that 170,000 discs were sold in Japan in January to August last year and. with the format war long behind us, that figure should have increased three-fold for the same period this year.

For a country with a population over twice that of the UK, and a reputation as early adopters of any new technology, a little over half a million discs sold doesn’t sound a lot to me. Maybe all those Japanese Blu-ray Disc buyers really are just using it ro record from the TV.

There are now 534 titles on sale in Japan, and the number is growing fast, we were told. The Digital Entertainment Group brings together hardware manufacturers and software companies to inform and educate consumers about the technology, but based on this session I’d say it had its work cut out.

China Blu
Panasonic’s Masayuki Ozuka spoke about the growth of the format, with particular reference to how the Blu-ray Disc Association was promoting it in China, where both hardware and software manufacturing is being ramped up. Over 60 companies from all the major Asian consumer electronics manufacturing countries either have or are planning Blu-ray Disc hardware, it was revealed.

Ozuka and his counterpart from Sony, Yokota Kazuki, waited patiently through the fulsome praise heaped on their companies by the moderator, while the reviewer from Japanese home cinema magazine HiVi looked a bit non-plussed as no-one seemed to speak to him.

And the anime director sort of agreed with the suggestion from the chair that anime fans would lead the Japanese market deeper into Blu-ray, which they love as it lets them see all the detail of the animation technique.

Finally it fell to Masami Takahashi, Marketing Executive Director of Walt Disney Home Entertainment Japan, to tell us his view on what would make Blu-ray fly here.

Content, going forward
He almost lost me when he started talking about content, rather than movies, and used the term 'going forward' within his first couple of sentences, but he went on to say that what gets him all excited is the range of extra features available on BD-Live, which by the way on his slides stood for Blu-ray Disney Live.

We’re not just talking director’s commentaries and featurettes, but 3D versions of the films, the ability to download portable versions to your phone, and more. How about interactive movie quizzes? Movie Mail, so you can send email to other people watching the film?

Or even live Movie Chat, so you can hook-up with others as you watch the same scene at the same time?

Add in a points club system – they love points clubs in Japan – allowing discounts off merchandise, live events and so on, and you have the complete package.

All this is apparently coming with US releases very soon, and will hit Japan next year, as will 3D versions of classics such as Toy Story.

And what’s going to crack Blu-ray for Disney in Japan? Takahashi’s eyes twinkled behind his vaguely Gok Wan designer marketing glasses. “For now, movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean have been popular, but now we want more family use – so Sleeping Beauty or Snow White could be a turning point.”

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.