'Departures' looks to take off post-Oscars

Foreign-language winner no longer risky for distributors

Will Oscars translate to boxoffice riches?

COLOGNE, Germany -- Japanese drama "Departures," the surprise winner of this year's foreign-language Academy Award, could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the elusive Oscar bump.

Before it beat out tipsters' favorites "Waltz With Bashir" and "The Class" to take the foreign-language crown, Yojiro Takita's elegant drama about death and the meaning of life was an unknown quantity and, arguably, a risky move for distributors outside Asia.

While "Departures" earned an impressive $33 million at the Japanese boxoffice last year, its subject matter -- an unemployed cellist becomes a "nokanshi," or ceremonial preparer of corpses -- and Japanese setting, present a marketing challenge for international buyers. In fact, the film has yet to open theatrically anywhere outside of Asia.

But now, distributors can take full advantage of the label "Oscar winner" when designing their "Departures" campaigns. This includes Regent Releasing, which is planning a mid-May U.S. bow for the film.

The Oscar nomination alone helped sales agent ContentFilm International lock up several European territories for the film at Berlin's European Film Market earlier this month.

Back home, the golden Oscar statuette has already given "Departures" a boost. More than a thousand people lined up for the first 10:45 a.m. screening of the theatrical re-release of the film Tuesday in central Tokyo. The "Departures" DVD is due in Japan next month, and pre-orders are said to be booming.

Gavin Blair in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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