A cultural connection from a continent away
A small university event curates a voice that blossoms into a leading hybrid experience connecting the people of Germany to the symbolism, stories, and struggles of Japan.
“We expanded our audience in the last two years by going fully online. People who were never able to come to Nippon Connection because they couldn’t get holidays at that time, started watching from as far as Berlin which is on the other side of Germany.”
About Nippon Connection
In 1999, Marion Klomfass and Holger Ziegler decided to show a series of Japanese films at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. A year later, following the success of the event, Nippon Connection was formally established with the mission to support filmmakers from Japan and to make Japanese Cinema more widely known.
The film selection, delivery, adaptation, and branding expertise – combined with a unique offering driven from a vast network of Japanese and Asian film scene contacts – has cemented its position as one of the biggest platforms for Japanese Cinema in the world. Theirs is a success story in vision, branding, adaptation, and the creation of a bridge between a community seeking a presence in European cinema and an audience that wanted to experience it in person and at home.
A cultural connection connecting generations of people
Florian Höhr – one of Nippon Connection’s leading curators - grew up with an interest in Japanese culture from the time he was 8 years old. Starting with manga and later Japanese animation, Florian – like many festival organisers – immersed himself into a film genre that would later grant him a career path built on foreign film.
Florian’s first experience with the Nippon Connection was in 2012 as a film studies student at the University of Frankfurt in 2012. By distributing through a university campus, the attendance captured the coveted 18-35 demographic where it began to seed the cultural interests of a group that would be around for generations to come. By 2013, Nippon Connection moved to a marquee cultural centre; expanding its audience demographic from university students to retirement aged and everything in between. In most cases, it introduced an audience to a new genre of film that they had never seen before.
“More than 90% of the program/festival is something you can’t see anywhere else if you’re living in Europe.”
Rebranding the experience to connect new audiences
Since the event’s inception – whether the event was held on campus or at a cultural centre - Nippon always maintained a strong connection to its student roots. Within the first ten years, a challenge was issued to the university to establish a new brand that, when combined with its curatorial voice, would visually demonstrate its commitment to Japanese filmmakers and its goal of making Japanese Cinema more widely known. The Cherry Blossom – a national iconic symbol of renewal and the impermanence of beauty that inspires thousands of tourists to visit Japan every year– was selected as the symbolic representation and its pink hues combined with traditional symbolism were used across every physical and digital touchpoint.
“That colour – that first look to the site – consistently gets positive feedback. Anytime when I show the capabilities of the platform, when festival directors watch Nippon Connection, they’re amazed. The choice of colours gives the impression that it was a designed site from scratch. There’s a feeling of fresh air when I browse the Nippon Connection”
That sense of imperfect and impermanent beauty was represented in both image and film selection. Florian and his team committed to the art and purpose. They wanted to ensure that even films that seemed too niche or had SOME weak points were given a voice. For Florian, the most important thing to do is support filmmakers even if they’re not at the high point of their career. He found the audience in the imperfections.
A virtual opportunity to introduce all of Germany to Japan
Like many film festivals, the spread of COVID fundamentally changed how audiences would experience entertainment both during the pandemic and after. June’s festival was quickly approaching and Nippon Connection would be among the first to be forced to adapt or cancel the event. Seeing as Shift72 had already built a reputation for ensuring festivals could continue during the pandemic, the team at Nippon Connection reached out to Shift72 to create a virtual experience that would maintain the integrity and values of the festival while connecting audiences beyond the Frankfurt venue.
“ I got a letter saying people watched 25 films in one week. At the onsite, that’s almost impossible.”
With the online event, up to 17,000 viewers visited the site to watch 100 films including shorts, animation, and big budget. Every aspect of Japanese cinema was on display including films that don’t get shown at other festivals…and it worked. Whether restricted to the virtual experience or given the option to go in person, having the virtual option gave Nippon Connection the chance to reach a previously unreachable community.
A virtual model that worked
Amongst the festival community, there is still great debate on what hybrid model – be it restricted digital, single screening physical, or hybrid for all - is the best to pursue. Notwithstanding digital display restrictions enforced by film owners, Nippon Connection found a formula that worked for them: in-person plus one week virtual delay (where permitted).
By waiting the week, the team was able to build or attach themselves to the word-of-mouth buzz during the in-person showings to draw the crowds back to the virtual experience one week after the film had been shown. The result was over €9,000 in revenue across 2,500 customers in a single “post-covid” week PLUS the additional revenues earned from online sponsorship with more potential from pre-roll and their annual programming.
The pandemic created an expectation and desire for entertainment within the comforts of audience’s homes and – at a price point that was still lower than a traditional cinema - the audience responded with the support of their pocketbooks.
“By showing them online the week after the festival or the month after the festival, we create more opportunities… Just recently, by showing Salary Man virtually at our festival, it got picked up by another film festival who had seen it.”
Looking forward: The future of the festival
For Florian and his team, the pandemic has established a comfort from home that is here to stay. Online screening at home from festivals is something that the audience is expecting for the future and part of that experience may include a suite of apps across mobile, and television for 2023. New audiences are being exposed to festivals where, previously, they were unable to attend because of the inconvenience of the location and Nippon Connection will continue to find new ways to connect that audience to the art of Japanese film both in person and virtually.
“Sometimes it’s not the megastars that draws the audience, it’s the ones that have the unique voice or the imperfect film that draws the audience.”