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Hollywood’s Share of Japanese Box Office Falls to Lowest Level Since 1965

THERMAE ROMAE Still - H 2012
"Thermae Romae" was one of the local titles that dominated the 2012 box office

Imported films accounted for only 34.3 percent of Japan’s $2.14 billion box office in 2012.

TOKYO -- Japanese box office revenue was up 7.7 percent overall to $2.14 billion (195 billion yen) in 2012 from the disaster-affected previous year. Box office for imported films however, dropped by $161 million (14.7 billion yen), despite the number of foreign releases increasing by 71 compared to 2011.  

Local films dominated, with coast guard rescue diver actioner Umizaru 4 Brave Hearts topping the charts with $80.5 million (7.33 billion yen), followed by time travel comedy Thermae Romae with $66 million (5.98 billion yen), cop comedy thriller Bayside Shakedown 4 -- The Final with $65.5 million (5.97 billion yen) and anime favorite Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, the only non-Toho distributed release in the domestic top 10, with $58.2 million (5.3 billion yen).

Those four films alone accounted for 12.6 percent of the total year’s box office. 

By contrast, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, with $59 million (5.38 billion yen), was the only Hollywood movie to break the $50 million/5 billion yen barrier.

Imports have been losing their pulling power over the last decade since they took 72.9 percent of the box office in 2002.

“With the takings for imported films falling, there’s a natural tendency to spend less on advertising and open on fewer screens,” said Hiroki Takahashi from Warner Bros Japan.

“The last films to do more than 10 billion ($110 million) were the big 3D films,” said Takahashi, referring to Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3, which all topped that figure in 2010.

Some see the waning power of Hollywood films as part of a wider trend of insularity among Japanese youth.

“Young people have lost interest in what’s happening outside Japan,” suggested Yusuke Horiuchi from Toho-Towa, the subsidiary of Toho that releases imports. “But it’s not just that Hollywood films have underperformed, Japanese films have done well."

Some in the domestic industry suggest that Toho’s dominance is also contributing to the tide moving away from imported fare. Toho Theaters operate about 17.5 percent of Japan’s 3,290 screens, accounting for nearly a quarter of total box office. With Toho also responsible for most domestic blockbusters, many produced jointly with TV stations that relentlessly promote their release, local films have a big advantage from start to finish.

The last time Hollywood's market share was below 35 percent was in 1965, when it recorded 33.3 percent.  

Twitter@GavinJBlair