Netflix released Takashi Miike’s new film without telling anyone. Please stop doing this! | Takashi Miike

Last weekend, something fairly momentous happened. Lumberjack the Monster, the new film by Takashi Miike, arrived on Netflix. Lumberjack the Monster is a significant release, because it represents the first out-and-out horror movie that Miike has made in a decade, having spent the intervening years dabbling in other genres. For a certain type of fan, it’s like Scorsese coming back from the wilderness of the 1980s with Goodfellas. Even if his films are too violent and perverse for you, you still have to admit that a new Takashi Miike horror movie is a big deal.

Unless you’re Netflix, of course. Because Netflix released Lumberjack the Monster with minimal – perhaps even non-existent – promotion. I only knew about it because I saw a tweet from a guy who had discovered it by accident and couldn’t understand why Netflix hadn’t made more noise about it.

But, of course, Netflix has a habit of doing this from time to time. It did it this year, in fact, with Wes Anderson’s series of Roald Dahl adaptations. Yes, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar received a lot of buzz on its release in March. And, yes, that buzz translated into silverware, winning best live action short film at this year’s Oscars. But this came at the expense of the three other Roald Dahl adaptations that Anderson also made for Netflix. Did the platform make any noise for The Swan? Or The Ratcatcher? Or Poison? Barely at all.

Takashi Miike presenting Lumberjack The Monster at Sitges film festival, Spain. Photograph: Siu Wu/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The same can be said for Annihilation, which might qualify as Alex Garland’s most narratively satisfying film. It’s a wonderful movie, and one that refuses to underestimate its audience, and yet – again – Netflix casually tossed it to one side on its release. It’s not like Netflix doesn’t have a history of this: back in the day there was The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Snaring the Coen Brothers felt like a huge coup for Netflix when the deal was announced, something that has only grown in significance in retrospect, since Buster Scruggs was the final film the brothers directed together. When it was screened in competition at the Venice film festival, it won the best screenplay award. Netflix set a November cinema release, presumably in the hope that it would only gain Oscars traction. When none came, the film was dropped like a stone, with minimal promotion. As it stands now, Buster Scruggs has the feel of a weird little outlier in the Coens’s filmography; a funny little almost-film that came and went without leaving any splash at all.

The big fear for directors – any directors, not just the notable ones – is that being released straight to streaming is roughly the equivalent of tying an anchor to your leg and jumping overboard. Release a movie into cinemas and your only competition are the other movies that have been released at the same time. But debut on Netflix and suddenly you’re competing against every piece of filmed content ever made. Even if you miraculously manage to conjure up a scrap of buzz, a day or two later you’ll be replaced by something else. You’ve dedicated years of life to a project, miraculously turning it from nothing to something with your bare hands, only to find that nobody can find it on the platform because of all the ads for Is It Cake?. No wonder Doug Liman threw such a tantrum when Amazon told him that Road House would go straight to streaming.

It’s hard not to think of Orson Welles here. For decades, his unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind was spoken about in near-mythic terms. It was complicated, the rumours went. It was autobiographical. Experimental. If only Welles had completed it, it would have easily stood shoulder to shoulder with his best work. So in 2014, decades after the death of Welles, Frank Marshall and Peter Bogdanovich attempted to finally complete it. It was a laborious and painstaking task, requiring half a million dollars of crowdsourced money to help complete it. And then Netflix bought it, and almost immediately made it impossible to find. When it was released in 2018, The Other Side of the Wind was hidden away in a submenu, buried beneath no end of romcoms and reality shows. It’s the closest thing that Hollywood had ever come to replicating the final shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It’s obviously much harder, but perhaps the only way to stop the work of important film-makers from being birthed into oblivion is by enthusiastic word of mouth. It isn’t too late for Lumberjack the Monster. Perhaps if we all watch it enough, Netflix’s algorithm will notice and start promoting it to others. That means Takashi Miike will get the reception he deserves, and lots of unsuspecting subscribers will get to watch a Japanese-language movie about a brain-stealing serial killer. Everyone wins.

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