As part of my studies, my recent assignment was to put together an acquisition report to theatrically release the Japanese suspense thriller Creepy (2016) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Key issues to cover were marketing potential of the title, to identify the target audience for the film and to draft the key elements of the release.
I found the assignment really motivating and also a great way to familiarise myself with some of the key elements of a release campaign.
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Chihiro Ikeda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on the novel by Yutaka Maekawa
“A nail-biting thriller”
A cult Japanese director returns to his roots with Creepy, a nail-biting suspense thriller that, according to Deborah Young, the Chief International Critic from The Hollywood Reporter, will have little trouble raising the market’s temperature (2016).
This report presents a case for Creepy’s great potential to be a successful release in the UK.
The report looks at the current thriller marketplace in the UK and argues that Creepy can be positioned uniquely, marking a re-emergence of quality Asian genre films in the UK. In addition, Creepy has great audience potential due to its genre extending qualities that enable the film to reach thriller enthusiasts and cinephiles, as well as fans of the director's previous J-horror titles. This report looks closely at the film's possible audiences and their behavior and finally drafts a plan to reach them.
A retired detective Koichi Takakura is drawn back to work to assist on a closed missing person case that quickly spirals into a tangled mystery involving his neighborhood and personal relationships, causing the detective to question himself over the case - which hits a little too close to home.
That is the story of Creepy directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a filmmaker who is known for his suspense-filled psychological films, many of which have received a cult status within the Japanese horror genre. After exploring other genres, many reviewers mark Creepy as a return for Kurosawa to his roots providing us with nail-biting tension (Dargis, 2016) (Young, 2016).
Creepy's profile, genre, and marketable attributes
Creepy can be profiled as an critically acclaimed, intelligent original thriller that marks the return of Kurosawa - the master of Japanese suspense. Its main market will be female thriller and crime audiences and film enthusiasts aged 25 and older based in cities and urban areas.
Creepy is an intellectual film that should appeal to educated thriller and foreign-language audiences. It has all the ingredients to give audiences the shivers, yet it also provides food for thought with its underlying social commentary on modern society.
As detective Takakuro continues his investigations, his lonely wife Yasuko tries to befriend their new reserved neighbor Nishino. Soon enough, Nishino's troubling qualities emerge and the viewer is left to wonder ‘how well do we really know our neighbours'?
Creepy’s Japanese original title Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin translates to Creepy: Fake Neighbour. Judging by the film’s Japanese poster and the title, the film was positioned more towards horror and psychological thriller. This report argues that the current title Creepy combined with the haunted house imagery of the poster risks alienating the target female audience.
Instead, Creepy will be better positioned as a suspense thriller aimed at female thriller audiences. The film focuses on two crime investigations and features the genre trope of the lonely retired detective. It takes its audience on a suspense-filled ride from alienation in a suburban neighbourhood to a tense hostage situation that is finally resolved against the odds by the once defeated detective. In short: the hero saves the day. Creepy also features emotional aspects of a relationship drama which suggests it could perform well within the female audience (Dargis, 2016).
This positioning is backed by research that suggests that suspense thrillers are well received by older female audiences (Redfern, 2012). In addition, an exit poll created for this report at Creepy’s screening at the Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) reveals that female audiences who came to see the film because they liked thriller were significantly more likely to recommend the film (50%) than male audiences who came to see the film for the same reason (30%). Yet, significantly more men came to see the film (66% versus 33% women).
Though the sample size of the exit poll was small, the results are indicative of the need to reposition Creepy to appeal to female audiences (See appendix 1 for the detailed Exit Poll results).
For example, renaming Creepy to Neighbour and promoting themes of crime and investigation in the film's marketing could help steer the film away from the association with the horror genre, making it more appealing to thriller liking women. Furthermore, the films use of the colour green and haunted house imagery suggests the horror genre whereas the colour blue is more often associated with crime series, most notably CSI, thus better associating the film with crime thrillers.
A mockup to alternative visual positioning:
Creepy focuses on isolation and disintegration of communities including the neighbourhood. The director aimed to reflect the changes in the Japanese society where people are becoming increasingly inward-looking, not speaking to or getting to know those around them. Parallels can be drawn here to current socio-political developments in British society, as such, Creepy’s treatment of the subject can be seen as the film’s main strength. The theme of alienation adds a deeper meaning to the story and gives the audience something to think about after leaving the theatre.
Being a foreign language title naturally sets some limits to Creepy’s audience appeal. Yet being Japanese works to the film's advantage giving it a unique positioning opportunity as the must-see foreign thriller.
Japanese horrors and thrillers have a particular reputation in western countries. Where many western thrillers bare a resemblance to action films, Japanese horrors and thrillers have a slower pace, more haunting atmosphere and a sense of alienation and emptiness (Lovgren, 2004) (Balmain, 2008). Judging from the proliferation of Japanese horrors and their remakes in the west there is a clear appetite for slower and eerier thrillers.
In addition, only 8 Japanese films were released in the UK in 2015, including all genres and re-releases and in total only three east Asian thrillers were released in the UK in 2015 (BFI, 2016) (launchingfilms.com, 2016) (Appendix 2). This means less competition for Creepy to position itself as the must-see Asian thriller.
Being foreign-language also helps to profile Creepy towards film enthusiasts which is key in obtaining word-of-mouth recommendations. Would be a mistake to promote Creepy too widely as mainstream audiences might be expecting a western style thriller and spread negative word-of-mouth.
This pattern is reflected in a case study of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). The study compared word-of-mouth results from a subtitled version of the film to those from a dubbed version of the film and found out that the film performed better with subtitles. The report suggests a reason for this was that the subtitled version attracted the right audience: the culturally aware, reading audience, who enjoyed the film as it was intellectual and demanding. The suburban multiplex audience that saw the dubbed version were not prepared for what they were going to watch, consequently rating it worse (UK Film Council, 2010).
2. Target Audience and market
Creepy’s main market is thriller audiences who like challenging stories, foreign-language film audiences and film fanatics who regularly visit cinemas and can be attracted by the reputation of, and their regard for, Japanese films.
The audience for suspense thrillers are men and women over 55 (Redfern, 2012) (See appendix 3). Judging by the film’s theme, it being less action-packed and moving at a more considered pace, the campaign will be focusing on targeting female thriller fans, considering them as the film’s first target audience. They are educated culture consumers, aged 35+, who pre-plan their cinema visits (Buckingham, 2010).
The audience for foreign-language films is mainly 25+ audiences who live in urban areas and have a higher education. Foreign-language films are preferred by men aged 25-44 and women over 35 (Redfern, 2012). Foreign language audiences are generally more interested in film than most audiences and tend to visit museums and galleries more than traditional audiences (Jones, 2014). There is a good overlap with the female thriller audiences in terms of culture consumption and education, making some marketing efforts likely to reach both audiences.
The secondary audience will, therefore, constitute of younger men and film fanatics. This audience, men aged 25-44 also pre-plan cinema visits and are likely to be drawn to the film by the director's reputation, critical acclaim, festival success and the profiling of Creepy as the must-see Asian thriller (Buckingham, 2010).
The tertiary audience includes J-horror fans and people who enjoy Kurosawa’s earlier films.
The exit poll during Creepy’s screening at the LIFF backs this targeting. According to the results, 80% of women came to watch Creepy because they enjoy thrillers or found the story appealing compared to 57% of men. Out of men, 25% came to see Creepy because they enjoy foreign-language films as opposed to 13% of women. Also, the film performed better among female thriller audience, out of which 50% said they were very likely or likely to recommend the film as opposed to 30% of men who chose the film because they liked thrillers. Also, only 18% of the same women said they were very unlikely or unlikely to recommend the film compared to 30% of thriller liking men saying they would not recommend the film (appendix 1).
Altogether 60 people took part in the exit poll. The results are naturally limited but combined with the other research and data, it can be incorporated as evidence of an emerging pattern.
3. Strategy for audience exposure and buzz building
The release strategy for Creepy includes a platform theatrical release starting from bigger cities' independent cinemas and moving gradually to smaller cities. The aim is to build on word-of-mouth to maximise the overall theatrical run. After the cinema exhibition, Creepy will be launched on VOD and DVD and finally on network TV.
To launch the word-of-mouth based campaign, Creepy will have talker screenings in key cities, including London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Talker screenings are essentially screenings scheduled a few weeks prior to the film's opening partnered with media organisations or brands (BFI, 2014).They are researched to benefit films that have consistently rated high in reviews and that ‘carry the potential for strong word-of-mouth' (BFI, 2014).
Creepy has this quality, having received Metacritic favourable reviews from 78% of critics and great reviews from institutions like Roger Ebert’s website, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter (Metacritic, 2016), (Tallerico, 2016), (Dargis, 2016), (Murray, 2016) (Young, 2916).
A previous successful talker screening campaign includes the drama 7 Days In Havana (2012) which held 7 talker screenings in key cities prior to the film’s opening and partnered with the rum brand Havana Club (BFI, 2012).
Creepy aims to use its strong neighbour theme to promote the talker screenings and collaborate with the restaurant and sushi delivery company Feng Sushi, that could deliver the talker screening invitations along their delivery to targeted postcodes. Promoting a Japanese thriller along sushi is a great way to introduce the consumers to other aspects of Japanese culture, their cinema.
Two weeks prior to the screenings Feng Sushi would deliver invitations to certain postcodes in proximity to the event cinema asking ‘how well do you know your neighbours'. The hook is to introduce the ‘evil neighbour' theme directly into people’s homes where they are in close contact with their neighbours.
The partnership with a sushi delivery also allows specific targeting of certain postcodes close to the independent cinemas, for example, Notting Hill Feng Sushi's local deliveries and the Picture House Gate cinema. The profile of sushi eaters' also matches the profile of our target audience; educated, culture consumers. It is researched that healthy takeaway food, sushi especially is consumed by educated consumers (Miura, 2012).
The aim of the talker screenings is to increase PR possibilities and encourage local grassroots level exposure for the film. The intended result of this would be to mobilise cultural influencer who will be invited personally and targeted postcodes where educated middle class, middle age women live as well as areas where young hip film fanatics live.
Creepy will enhance the potential word-of-mouth by sales promotion, handing out redemption vouchers at the talker screenings for the guests to invite their friends or even neighbours to attend the film during its opening weekend at a discounted price.
The point of the sales promotions is to mobilise the female thriller audiences and film enthusiasts to see the film on its opening weekend and build a strong word-of-mouth for the film in aim to increase the length of the theatrical run. The sales promotion was also used in 7 Days in Havana’s release (BFI, 2012).
In addition, traditional advertising will be used to reach the thriller audiences and educated film fans; digital ads on specific websites as well as newspaper and public space advertising.
In addition, the tertiary audience of Kurosawa's earlier films will be mobilised. E-marketing and heavy social media will be implemented to reach them. Also, a protected online ‘early access' link of the film will be shared with horror bloggers around the country to view and blog about the film prior to its release. In addition, horror audiences from smaller cities are encouraged to demand a screening to their local cinema. If enough people would attend the screening, one is organised. Collaboration with bloggers and using their word-of-mouth recommendations is vital to reach the J-horror audiences who are familiar with the director's earlier work. The collaborations include blogs like Final Girl, Mystery and Horror, Day of Woman and Kweeney Todd (Ponder, 2016) (mysteryandhorror.blogspot.co.uk, 2016), (Colangelo, 2016) (Thayer, 2016).
As anything, Creepy exists in the current UK market which has it's own uncontrollable factors that might affect consumer behavior and the film's box office performance and consequently the film's status in ancillary markets. Mainly the economic uncertainty of Britain is a key factor to consider as news can spark unexpectedly announcing the pounds spiraling value or otherwise rising prices with rapid effects on people's consumption of culture and leisure activities. Secondly, the winter weather can range from floods to terrible winds consequently making audiences stay at home. There aren't any distinctive ways to counter these uncontrollable threats other than making a case for Creepy to be the film for their target audiences to use their limited cultural spend on and be a good enough reason to make a trip to the cinema. This report believes that a campaign built around word-of-mouth recommendations and local PR is the best strategy to do that.
To conclude the campaign includes traditional push marketing in terms of ads, sales promotions, PR and direct marketing to reach the core audiences, thriller fans, and film geeks. It also includes pull marketing to promote the film to traditional Kurosawa fans to encourage them to ‘demand' the film to their local or communal cinemas.
Creepy has the potential to excite traditional, educated thriller fans. The Japanese market for the film is very different than the foreign market for the film, mainly due to the director’s reputation. Although recognized by J-horror fans, Kurosawa is not as well known in the UK to justify only targeting those fans in the theatrical release. Therefore the repositioning of the film as a suspense crime thriller allows the film to reach a wider audience base, and consequently enhance its chances at the box office.
Creepy’s great performance in reviews and the feedback from thriller fans from the exit poll suggests strong word-of-mouth potential. The strategy the release of Creepy is designed to maximize that potential.
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