Among the snubs and surprise inclusions in this year’s Oscar nominations, one might have stood out for Japanese movie fans — and I’m not talking about “Your Name.” In what’s surely a first, a Best Picture nominee has bypassed cinemas here and gone straight to Netflix.
David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water,” a financial-crisis parable masquerading as a genre thriller, drew rave reviews in the U.S. last summer. Netflix Japan picked up local distribution rights and has been streaming it since last November, though it honestly took an Academy Award nod for me to notice.
Going straight to video was once the most ignominious fate a film could suffer. In Japan, where the independent cinema scene has virtually collapsed, it’s now a common path for flicks with less-than-obvious commercial prospects.
With the arrival of Netflix, things are getting more complicated. The company has been steadily expanding its roster since dropping nearly $12 million on “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015. Netflix Japan was the first place to see Sean Baker’s “Tangerine,” which got a long-overdue theatrical release last month. It also bagged another notable prestige movie, “Kung-Fu Panda 3.”
We may increasingly be looking online for next year’s Oscar bait. Netflix was the biggest buyer at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, where it spent $12.5 million on period drama “Mudbound,” an early awards contender.
The second biggest buyer, incidentally, was Amazon.