Review: Disney Plus Arrives in Japan in Time for Rainy Season

TW reviews Disney Plus to help Tokyo residents determine if Disney's new streaming service is worth the price of admission

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When international streaming service Disney Plus finally landed in Japan on June 11, it had just missed the opportunity of arriving during the country’s laissez-faire version of a lockdown, but it did make it in time for the annual rainy season. Still, it wasn’t greeted with as much fanfare as it was in other territories before.

One of the reasons might be that Japan already had a similar offering in the much better-named Disney Deluxe. That service, being a bit of a typical Japanese Galápagos solution, could be somewhat clunky, but you have to give it credit for being there first (and worldwide at that).

Deluxe Becomes Plus

Although now renamed, rebranded, redesigned and relaunched under the international Disney Plus umbrella, some things haven’t changed. You still need a Docomo account to register. If you don’t have one, you will just unbureaucratically get one during the easy sign-up process. (If you are paranoid about Big Data watching over your shoulder while you binge on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, maybe streaming is not for you.)

To make extra-sure that the Japanese branch of Disney Plus is only enjoyed by proper residents of Japan, you need a proper Japanese credit card. An international card properly registered to a Japanese address won’t do. I ended up stealing my wife’s credit card information and was good to go in no time. (I plan to pay her back in childhood memories of fairy-tale princesses and talking animals.)

The price tag has remained at ¥700 before tax, which is slightly lower than the most basic Netflix deal. For that, you get unlimited access to classic Disney TV and movies, as well as some more recent fair (yes, parents, rejoice: Frozen 2 is there). There is also key content from companies Disney has acquired on its path to world domination, most notably Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

Is Baby Yoda Still Big News?

Original content was one of the biggest draws of Disney Plus when it launched in the US last year, and original content mostly meant The Mandalorian. There were some Pixar shorts, a fresh approach to High School Musical and a puzzling documentary show where Jeff Goldblum (67) gets all excited about sneakers and ice cream. Still, it was The Mandalorian – the droll Star Wars appropriation of Japan’s own Lone Wolf & Cub – that was the reason many happily signed up for yet another streaming service.

Maybe it’s also one more reason why Disney Plus doesn’t come as quite as big a deal here. Just between you and me: If you are a Star Wars fan in Japan, by now you most likely have found other means of watching The Mandalorian (I am talking about good old Disney Deluxe, of course). The words ‘Baby’ and ‘Yoda’ shouldn’t count as spoilers anywhere in the world anymore.

The Mandalorian can be enjoyed in its entirety on the Japanese Disney Plus. Other shows are being released episode by episode, like in the old days. At the moment, that all-important category of original content seems a bit lacking.

One minor highlight is a family-friendly adventure film with a dog and a gruff, aging Hollywood legend set in snowy, Gold Rush-era Alaska. It is, of course, Togo starring Willem Dafoe, and yes, it is pretty much the same film as The Call of the Wild starring Harrison Ford. It’s pretty good for what it is, but it makes you wonder whether Pierce Brosnan, Kurt Russell and Ben Kingsley also have snowy dog movies in development, and if those will be necessary.

Japanese Only

Navigating Disney Plus, some Japanese reading ability is, well, a plus. At the time of writing, the interface cannot be switched to any other language (content is always available with the original soundtrack, though). This is the cue for certain individuals to pipe up about their language skills and how certain other individuals shouldn’t even live in this country if they are not as smart as them.

Be that as it may, the three other major international streaming providers operating in this country (namely Netflix, Hulu and Amazon) have found it in their hearts and their abilities to offer their services in more than one language. While the interface of Disney Plus is visual enough to not get too lost without reading anything, some English might have been useful for help pages and error messages.

There is a repeating technical glitch logging me out about two and a half minutes into whatever I just started watching. Everything works fine after logging back in (prior viewing progress is lost, though). It’s a tiny luxury problem in the light of world events, but I still would like to know: Is it me? Can I do something?

Here to Stay… but for How Long?

Thanks to mildly interesting original content and a lot of classic material to get sentimental about, the appeal of Disney Plus might last longer than the first free trial month. How much longer, however, will depend on the quality and the quantity of upcoming original works.

With a price tag only slightly below the competition, a restrictive brand image to serve (don’t hold your breath for an R-rated The Punisher series), and some technical issues to straighten out, Disney Plus will not kill any competitor anytime soon. But it’s a welcome addition, especially for fans of certain franchises and families with children.


Feature image: Disney

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