Japan's Appetite for Adaptation
February 11, 2023 8:25 PM   Subscribe

What is it about Japan that makes adaptations of popular media into stage plays (or really any other media form) way more prevalent there than anything else?

I'm currently working on proposals to license a known video game to adapt into an English-language stage play. In my research, I found that video game stage plays are very much a thing in Japan, but not so much anywhere else. Indeed, Japan seems to stand out for having a ton of IPs that may have started in one medium (e.g. video games, anime, manga) but end up branching out into other mediums that don't necessarily seem like an intuitive choice (stage plays, radio dramas, light novels). Hell, even the video game I'm trying to make a stage play for comes from a series that has had a bunch of Japanese stage adaptations.

Why is that? Is it something cultural? Does the Japanese government provide incentives for this kind of cross-media work? (Almost all the adaptations I know of are more commercial in nature, but they may have gotten Government grant funding for all I know) Why hasn't this attitude necessarily taken off in other countries - or are there other countries that are similarly open about these adaptations as Japan is?
posted by creatrixtiara to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting question!!!

I do not know the answer, but my mind went to a few other wonderful japanese artforms that have some degree of what i am calling enhanced-recommercialization-via-allowing-for-remixing-or-recontextualizing-for-fun-and-profit
Woodblock Printing

you might find this article interesting, but I definitely think there is more to it.
Various theories have thus been posited which describe the development of Japanese culture and, in particular, visual culture as a cyclical pattern of assimilation, adaptation, and reaction.
posted by wowenthusiast at 10:08 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are two factors that come to mind from the musical theatre perspective.

One, Japanese theatre is hungry for repertoire. They don't have the West End / Broadway model of playing a show until people stop coming - ten weeks is a LONG run, three is more typical for a smaller show, because their audience is mostly people in the city already (and successful shows at the very least play Kansai and Tokyo, then sometimes go on national tour or at least do Nagoya and Fukuoka) and few people are obsessed enough to see the same show multiple times in one year. They'll do revivals, sometimes with the same or similar cast, or transfer productions to other places and theatres, but generally they want to put on something new every month to keep people coming back to the same space. Entertainers are generally cross-trained and capable of performing in many media including film and theatre, so there's a very large talent pool - in game adaptations especially you have a lot of singing idols performing. And games musicals, just like anime ones, bring in new audiences to the theatre who will there maybe be captured by the charisma or one of the pro actors and check out their next play, or just notice an interesting flyer in the foyer. The art forms that don't do this kind of crossover (mostly traditional ones like kabuki) are the ones suffering as their audiences grow older. For a musical, it's way easier for a grandma to go "Oh look, I used to be in her fanclub in the 80s and it's based on that game on your phone" and drag her grandson to the... 11th Touken Ranbu musical, I think it was?

Second, entertainment companies in Japan are very consolidated and run on long-standing company relationships. So for example if Capcom and Toho are generally working together - say on the Ace Attorney movie - and Toho is a part of Hankyu Hanshin Toho, it makes sense to commission an Ace Attorney musical for Hankyu's Takarazuka revue that will then be sold on DVD in Hankyu Hanship department stores and maybe streamed in Toho cinemas, plus available for purchase for streaming on Rakuten (which runs joint ventures with Toho). So we end up with three rather nice Ace Attorney musicals that cause gender confusion in a generation of western fans because it turns out a girl can play a wonderful Phoenix Wright.

(Takarazuka is a good example of the former too - it's a theatre company started to promote a railway line of all things, now 109 years in it's five troupes of 65-85 women in each, putting on upwards of 30 different shows a year in three exclusively theirs theatres and many affiliated Toho spaces, plus putting out most of them on DVDs so they can't repeat that often. They need a LOT of material. And it's just one company!)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:57 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]

Best answer: as far as i'm aware, and i say this as someone who has gone to many of these plays (*cough*sengoku basara*cough*touken ranbu*cough*), the short answer is fangirls. especially as these sorts of plays are a good way to see younger, up-and-coming actors, or mid-tier actors who aren't going to be big stars but have done enough tv tokyo work (as well as other stage plays) to have a good fanbase. there will be a series of different plays all with the same cast that do a whole story arc (especially anime adaptations), and then gradually the actors will "graduate" from the production bit by bit until there's a whole new cast, which brings in another whole new set of fangirls.

the plays are also good for seeing idol singers up close, as nobody really expects a high level of acting out of them, so they can be in something fairly disposable like this. and idols are huge business, with a huge fanbase, so it's basically guaranteed to sell out the entire run.

depending on the agency the idol/actor is connected to, there can also be semi-informal meet and greets after the show, which is also a draw for fangirls.

the long answer is pretty well covered by i claim sanctuary.
posted by emmling at 11:13 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]

fangirls do not get enough credit for being a massive force in the economy.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:04 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

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