'Avatar' boosts early 2010 Japan boxoffice

4:05 AM PST 04/13/2010 by Gavin J. Blair, AP

Dubbing increasingly popular for foreign-language films

TOKYO – January-February boxoffice was up 26% on last year to 33 billion yen ($350 million), with Hollywood films showing strongly thanks to “Avatar,” while dubbed versions of foreign-language films are growing in popularity.
 
Where subtitled versions were once almost the only game in town, a quarter of the 266,424 people who saw “Shutter Island” over its opening weekend of April 9-11 chose to watch a Japanese dubbed print. This is twice the average rate for a Hollywood film and helped propel the movie to the top of the weekend rankings with a take of 343.6 million yen ($3.68 million).
 
The trend for watching dubbed versions is particularly strong among young audience members, with half of couples in their teens and twenties opting for a Japanese screening, according to distributor Paramount Pictures Japan.    
 
As Hollywood films have lost share to domestic movies in recent years, distributors believe one reason is a tendency amongst younger audiences to find reading subtitles too much trouble – particularly when choosing date movies. In response, they have been increasing the number of Japanese-language screenings for films aimed at younger audiences.
 
“For 'Cirque du Freak' – called 'Darren Shan' in Japan – which was aimed at the teen market, about 90% of our screenings were dubbed versions,” says Yusuke Horiuchi from Toho-Towa, the distribution arm of Toho that handles foreign films.
 
“However, it depends on the film and the budget we have, it’s expensive to produce dubbed versions,” explained Horiuchi. “For 'Wolfman' which will be targeted at a more adult audience, we’ll only do a subtitled release.”
 
Similarly, “District 9,” which opened with a solid two-day weekend boxoffice of 160 million yen ($1.71 million) in second place behind “Shutter Island,” has only been released with subtitles. Distributed jointly by Warner Bros and Gaga, its lack of stars is likely to reduce its appeal to the younger demographic.
 
It was all change on the weekend rankings as local romantic comedy “My Darling is a Foreigner” – the story of an international marriage, produced by TBS and distributed by Toho - took the third spot with 120 million yen ($1.28 million).
 
“Avatar” remains in the rankings 16 weeks into its lucrative run, at number six.
 
“Wolfman” is out on April 23.
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