Production of the world’s longest-running cartoon and a mainstay of the Japanese weekend has been interrupted by the coronavirus, forcing the broadcast of re-runs for the first time in decades.
“Sazae-san”, which first aired in 1969, revolves around the life of Mrs Sazae, a cheerful but klutzy full-time housewife who lives with her parents, husband, son, brother and sister.
The 30-minute episodes aired Sunday nights are very popular, and for many in Japan have come to denote the end of the weekend.
But the cartoon, recognised as the longest-running animated TV series by Guinness World Records, has been hampered by the outbreak of the virus, with animation dubbing halted to keep staff safe, broadcaster Fuji Television Network said.
“We will halt broadcast of new episodes of ‘Sazae-san’ for the time being from May 17 and instead air re-runs,” it announced on Sunday.
The network said upcoming broadcasts would be episodes from two years ago, adding it would announce a date for the resumption of new episodes as soon as possible.
It is the first time the network has been forced to air re-runs since 1975, when the economic effects of an earlier oil crisis lingered.
Japan has seen a comparatively small coronavirus outbreak with nearly 15,800 infections and 621 deaths.
The country is under a state of emergency that was extended last week until the end of May, though the government is considering lifting the measures early in parts of the country.
A Danish newspaper refused to apologise to China on Tuesday over a satirical cartoon it ran about the deadly new virus that has killed dozens and infected thousands more.
The cartoon, published in Jyllands-Posten on Monday, depicted a Chinese flag with the yellow stars normally found in the upper left corner exchanged for drawings of the new coronavirus.
China’s embassy in Denmark called the cartoon “an insult to China” that “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people”.
The embassy said the cartoon crossed the “ethical boundary of free speech” and demanded that the paper and cartoonist Niels Bo Bojesen “reproach themselves for their mistake and publicly apologise to the Chinese people”.
After breaking out in the city of Wuhan, the official number of confirmed cases of the new virus reached more than 4,000 in China as of Tuesday, with over 100 deaths.
Some 50 infections have also been confirmed elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.
On Tuesday, Jyllands-Posten’s chief editor Jacob Nybroe said they would not “dream of” poking fun at the situation in China but also refused to apologise.
“We cannot apologise for something we don’t think is wrong. We have no intention of being demeaning or to mock, nor do we think that the drawing does,” Nybroe said.
“As far as I can see, this here is about different forms of cultural understanding.”
Several Danish politicians backed the paper, with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen quoted by the Politiken newspaper as saying “we have freedom of expression in Denmark. Also to draw”.
Jylland-Posten is no stranger to controversy. In 2005, it published several cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which later contributed to violent protests in some Muslim countries.
Roasted as a subversive symbol and chopped from a video streaming website in China, it seemed Peppa Pig, the loveable but imperious British cartoon character, faced a bleak future in the Communist-led country.
But her popularity has risen unabated, and now just months after state media slammed her as an emblem of the counterculture, she is playing a starring role as the country ushers in the Year of the Pig on Tuesday.
A new film titled “Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year” is being released on the first day of the holiday.
The movie shows Peppa celebrating Lunar New Year with two new friends — “Jiaozi” (dumpling) and “Tang yuan” (glutinous rice ball) — named after popular local delicacies.
The animation, which follows the daily adventures of a bright pink piglet, her brother George and her parents, is hugely popular with Chinese children.
Last year, five-year-old twins Mi Ai and Mi Ni made a video asking to meet Queen Elizabeth II after seeing their porcine heroine visit the monarch in an episode.
The clip garnered more than nine million views and made such an impact that the pair were invited for tea by the British ambassador to Beijing and promised a tour of Buckingham Palace.
“It is really fun and the language is easy to understand”, their mother, Bella Zhang, said of the girls’ obsession with the show.
She added that the series was popular with Chinese parents because it teaches “the importance of love and cooperation”.
The cartoon’s focus on family values has resonated with Chinese parents who strictly monitor their children’s TV time, agreed Li Xin as she bought a Peppa toy for her four-year-old at a Beijing store.
Billions of views
Peppa Pig first broadcast in China in 2015 but last May some 30,000 clips of the cartoon were removed from a popular video streaming site, following criticism from state media.
Papers affiliated to the Communist Party wrote harsh columns about Peppa Pig being hijacked by gangsters and subversives to create videos that reject mainstream values.
Memes featuring the beloved children’s character had also started to take on dark undertones at the time, occasionally veering into violent or pornographic territory.
“No matter how gangster Peppa Pig becomes, it cannot be allowed to destroy children’s youth [or] break rules,” The People’s Daily said in an editorial last April.
The shows have been watched around 60 billion times on the country’s largest video streaming sites, including Tencent Video and iQiyi, since it first launched in China, said Jamie MacEwan from British TV analysts Enders.
“This figure is up from 24.5 billion by May 2017, showing how China’s appetite for Peppa has only increased,” MacEwan told AFP.
Who is Peppa?
Now Entertainment One — the Canadian media company that currently produces the series — is banking on her popularity translating to the big screen.
A trailer for the movie, directed by Chinese film-maker Zhang Dapeng, has gone viral with the hashtag “Who is Peppa” being viewed more than 1.6 billion times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, a spokeswoman for Alibaba Pictures Group told AFP.
The promotional clip shows a rural villager’s quest to find out what his city-dwelling grandson wants when he asks for “Pei Qi” — Mandarin for Peppa Pig — in a bid to create the perfect Chinese New Year gift in time for the boy’s annual visit.
The trailer struck a chord with Chinese audiences because it “showcases the same values highlighted in the movie -– family, reunion, harmony and love”, Zhang wrote on Weibo.
The film has already earned 12 million yuan ($1.8 million) in presale tickets.
In a country where the pig is a symbol of wealth, Peppa merchandise is in high demand. There are even themed attractions — Peppa Pig World of Play opened in Shanghai in 2018 with another set to open in Beijing this year.
But the success of the Peppa brand has also brought headaches for the cartoon’s creators. Copycat merchandise — from cookies to pencil cases — can be easily found in corner stores in Chinese cities.
A spokesman for Entertainment One told AFP that in the last year more than half a million fake Peppa Pig items were seized and tens of thousands of online sale posts taken down.
He added: “In China, Entertainment One has a dedicated team working on this ongoing issue and have already successfully dealt with many infringements.”
DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc, the movie studio famous for family films like “Madagascar” and “Shark Tale”, has entered into a licensing agreement in Macau, the world’s biggest gambling destination, in a push to diversify revenues.
The deal with billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands China Ltd allows the casino operator to use characters like Shrek and Po from “Kung Fu Panda” in the casinos as Sands moves to attract leisure and family visitors.
California-based DreamWorks announced the deal on Tuesday with popular franchise characters on display. Guests at Sands’ Venetian and Cotai Central resorts will be able to see and interact with the characters during their stays, the film company said. The deal takes effect on July 1.
DreamWorks’ venture in Macau may help boost the $2 billion company’s efforts in China after it posted its first quarterly loss in almost six years in February.
In an advertising splash, DreamWorks took out three full-page color advertisements on Tuesday in Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, displaying Po, Shrek, and the animal cast of “Madagascar”, asking readers to guess where they were taking their next holiday.
Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is the only place in China where people are legally allowed to gamble in casinos. More than two-thirds of Macau’s visitors come from mainland China.
Chinese and Macau government officials have been pushing for casino operators like Sands to diversify their operations to appeal to a more mass-market international tourist destination.
Macau is heavily reliant on the gambling industry, with more than 70 percent of tax revenues coming from the casinos. Tourists come primarily to gamble as opposed to Las Vegas, where shows, fine dining and other forms of entertainment are in higher demand.
Rival casino operators located adjacent to Sands’ resorts on Macau’s Cotai strip have also been trying to diversify their gambling offerings. Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd, owned by Hong Kong billionaire Lawrence Ho and Australian tycoon James Packer, produces the House of Dancing Water show, while Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd has a cinema and a skytop wave pool.