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Helen McCarthy on Japan’s chances when America makes the rules

A handful of anime titles made the leap from possible to shortlist for the 85th Academy Awards list. Was this going to be anime’s first shot at animation’s Academy Awards since Spirited Away took the Oscars by storm in 2002?

Hayao Miyazaki was in there pitching again, this time teamed with his son Goro for their movie From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokurikuzara Kara.) Isamu Imakake’s The Mystical Laws (Shinpi no ho) was also listed, though most critics gave this presentation of the Happy Science religious organisation’s theories about as much chance of an Oscar as Scientology’s Battlefield Earth. In the Best Animated Short category, Katsuhiro Otomo had a strong contender in Combustible.

The excitement was premature. No anime made the nomination lists. Five American movies will fight it out for Best Animated Feature. As usual, Best Short Film (Animated) has a more eclectic list, but no Japanese titles. But before the angry tweets start flying, let’s reflect on three facts.

First, and most important, the Oscars are American. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an American body with an American worldview. Naturally, American product concerns the Academy above all else. It celebrates excellence in foreign film, but promoting American movies is its reason for existence. Obviously outstanding foreign films get nominated, especially if, like Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa, their directors have strong American advocates. But winning? That’s a whole other ballgame.

In 2012, Steven Spielberg’s strongly fancied Adventures of Tin Tin didn’t make the nominations, but two excellent non-American features were on the list – A Cat In Paris and Chico and Rita. The winner? Talking reptile Western Rango.

Second, the eligibility criteria exclude not just many anime but other foreign films. In 2010, Evangelion 1:0: You Are (Not) Alone didn’t qualify, having opened outside the nomination period. If eight eligible animated features haven’t been theatrically screened that year in Los Angeles County, there won’t even be a Best Animated Feature award.

Third, anime has done at least as well as most foreign animation at the Oscars. The French don’t exactly romp home every year, and the Koreans are nowhere to be seen. In 2009 Kunio Kato’s House of Small Cubes (Tsumiki no Ie) won the short animation Oscar, breaking the seven-year drought since Spirited Away beat four American contenders to take the Best Animated Feature statuette. It was, incidentally, the lowest US grossing film nominated. Koji Yamamura’s Mount Head was also nominated for Best Animated Short in 2002, losing out to Eric Armstrong’s The ChubbChubbs.

And really, the Oscars are not the be-all and end-all of a director’s career, unless you agree that an Academy Award is the only critique. So Mamoru Hosoda’s transcendentally lovely, inventive Summer Wars didn’t get a nomination? Well, Spike Lee, Robert Altman and Christopher Nolan are all still waiting for their first Best Director nod. The list of huge talents with no award is an honour roll in itself, one from which Hayao Miyazaki is now forever excluded.

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