Why Does Anime Have "The Motion Picture" In The Title?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matt B. asks:

I was wondering if all anime movies that say "The Motion Picture" were actually in theaters in Japan at some point? Often they don't seem much better quality than OVAs.

Funny you should ask this, as this is something that I was snickering about with a friend not long ago. "The Motion Picture" is such old fashioned and wonky terminology that mainstream movies haven't used it in decades.

Sometimes this is a way to translate the Japanese title of a movie, which might have "Gekijouban" (劇場版) in it. Gekijouban literally translates to "theatrical edition," and is usually used for a movie release to a pre-existing franchise. The normal English equivalent would be "The Movie," but "The Motion Picture" is also a reasonable translation. The latter has been heavily used by ADV Films and its successor companies, with titles like Air: The Motion Picture, RahXephon: The Motion Picture and Samurai X: The Motion Picture.

Whoever makes these decisions at ADV/Sentai, they seem a little obsessed with the label. They've used it even when the original Japanese release name used "The Movie" in English. (You're Under Arrest: The Motion Picture) They've used it when the Japanese title didn't have any format indication at all (Loups=Garous: The Motion Picture). They've used it on 2-part OAVs they've cut together into something resembling feature length (Tekken: The Motion Picture). They've even used it on TV specials (City Hunter: The Motion Picture). In fact, the only incident that I can find of the term being used by someone other than ADV/Sentai was by the Japanese themselves! (Garou Densetsu/Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture)

Why are they so addicted to calling things a "motion picture?" They probably feel that it suggests a gravitas or a maturity that just calling it a "movie" doesn't. Many of these releases are aimed at more of a mainstream audience than normal anime releases, and calling it a "motion picture" might suggest that a potential viewer should take it seriously, because anime is not kids' stuff! Additionally, the term "movie" can be nit-picked if the anime didn't actually get a theatrical release, but "motion picture" can technically cover literally any kind of filmed entertainment, from a 3D immersive experience to a flip-book.

From where I sit, that looks like a silly argument. To me, the phrase simply harkens back to the 1940s or 50s, where the movie business was still arguing for a higher class of artistic relevancy. It feels both a little needy and stuck in the past, like it's trying a little too hard and somehow misses the mark. I think I'm subconsciously less likely to take something seriously with that on the title. Particularly when it's being attached to everything from Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture to Lady Death: The Motion Picture. But I'm sure someone in their marketing department will probably tell me that I'm an outlier. To which I would shrug and move on to a more important topic.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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