National / Media | Japan Pulse

Japan’s YouTubers go long with crowdfunded content

by Tessa Randello

Contributing Writer

Natsuki Aso did not become a punk rock star, much to his teenage self’s regret. Around 15 minutes into the documentary “Natsuki: The Movie,” however, you’ll see that the 44-year-old was able to achieve a different kind of celebrity — replacing “concert appearances” with “vlog appearances,” and “screaming fans” with “adoring commenters.”

That’s the underlying — and uplifting — takeaway in Chris Broad’s documentary on his friend: YouTube can make dreams happen in ways you’ve never thought of. This goes for Broad as well, his channel Abroad in Japan usually produces short videos on life here but, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, he was able to produce his first full-length documentary.

“Without Patreon, there’s no way this could ever have happened,” Broad says. “YouTube ad revenue alone simply isn’t enough to fund projects like this.”

The campaign helped the film get the financial support it needed within three months. As incentives, Broad gave donors behind-the-scenes access to the production and sometimes even used their ideas in the documentary.

Once the project was complete, he just had to upload it to his site and watch the view count rise.

“The tragedy of many documentaries is that they’re often seen by small audiences due to the manner in which they’re distributed,” says Broad, whose film has now been viewed 280,000 times. “I’m incredibly lucky to have several hundred thousand amazing people who follow the YouTube channel, and it made sense for them all to be able to watch it through YouTube.”

Broad’s choice of platform didn’t just make sense because of its ease, however. According to Alexa Internet, YouTube is the second-most popular website worldwide, and younger generations in Japan have taken to the service with “YouTuber” being selected as the ninth most popular career choice for those between 6 and 12.

“It would have been extremely unlikely for a traditional production company to green-light a film like this, about an eccentric Japanese guy living in a remote, rural region of Japan, running a beauty salon and being at the end of his tether,” Broad says.

He may be selling himself short. While audiences may not equate the idea of a YouTuber-produced documentary with the fare on Netflix or Amazon, or screened at a festival like Hot Docs, “Natsuki: The Movie” is incredibly touching and well-produced.

“Making around 130 YouTube videos has taught me to think very carefully about every shot and sequence, and to ask whether it’s essential to the overall story,” Broad says.

Aso, who makes frequent appearances in Abroad in Japan videos and is known for his exuberant personality, is genuinely relatable in the documentary.

“I think I was able to show a part of me that you don’t usually see in the funny videos that I’m in,” Aso says.

“Natsuki: The Movie” is one of many documentaries popping up on YouTube and YouTube Premium. The channel Japanese Ammo with Misa is also using Patreon to produce longer content.

It can be a harder platform for creators to stand out on, but once noticed their audiences tend to be extremely loyal.

“It’s incredibly exciting to think that, through crowdfunding, nearly anyone with a reasonable social media following of just a few thousand people could dream up an idea and conceivably fund it,” Broad says. “Hopefully, it means we’ll see a far greater diversity in original films going forward.”

“Natsuki: The Movie” is streaming now at https://youtu.be/WLWZBeX-isM.