H'wood rising at Japanese b.o.

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Bucking the downward trend in neighboring Korea, Hollywood movies are on a winning streak in Japan, where the major studios have seen a 30% hike in boxoffice earnings over the past year. The market also remains a lucrative haven for local fare, according to the latest boxoffice data.

Theatrical boxoffice for films distributed by the five American majors in the market as well as the three big Japanese majors had crossed the $1 billion mark by the end of August, with the Japanese side taking the larger share of the proceeds.

But both groups are up significantly from the January-August period of 2005.

In August alone, the five American majors collected nearly $80 million in boxoffice -- a hefty 42% increase from August 2005 -- largely on the backs of such titles as BVI's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and Warner Bros.' "Superman Returns."

According to the Rengo Report, a respected Japanese boxoffice analyst, the U.S. overseas distributors -- Buena Vista International, Warner Bros. International, 20th Century Fox International, United International Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing International -- notched a nearly 30% hike from last year, with total boxoffice of $493 million for the January-August period. Meanwhile, the big Japanese distributors -- Toho, Toei and Shochiku -- tallied a nearly 21% increase, with total boxoffice of $556 million.

David Kornblum, BVI vp of international theatrical sales and distribution, regards Japan "as the most dominant territory outside of North America when it comes to the big tentpole releases. This performance profile typically propels Japan to rank as either the No.1 or No. 2 export market, with the U.K. currently its most common challenger."

Locally, the success of homegrown films is a cause celebre for the indigenous industry.

"I looked at all of the major releases (those that made more than $1 million) in Japan during the summer, and out of 44 titles, 30 of those were local films," said Joe Ortiz, executive director of sales administration at Fox. "I think this supports my claim that local films dominated the market." Japanese titles, Ortiz adds, outpointed Hollywood titles over the summer, claiming a 58% boxoffice share of the overall market.

Mark Zucker, president of distribution at Sony Pictures Releasing International, sees the popularity of local films as part of a worldwide pattern that is largely cyclical. "When there is a strong local film (in any market) there will be a demand for it," he says.

Andrew Cripps, president of United International Pictures, which handles the product of Paramount, Universal and DreamWorks overseas, noted that local movies may continue to grow in popularity as Japanese TV stations such as Fuji Television, Tokyo Broadcasting System and TV Asahi get more involved in film production and distribution.

Fuji has long been the source of highly commercial features handled locally by the single biggest distributor in Japan, Toho.

Films distributed during the period by Toho recorded boxoffice revenue of more than $404 million. The tally was helped by the success of "Gedo senki" (Tales of Earthsea), an animation adventure fantasy that grossed some $65 million in Japan.

But Toho's other boxoffice powerhouses also include two films produced by Fuji TV ("Limit of Love: Umizaru" and "Udon") plus "Nihon chinbotsu" (Japan Sinks), in which Tokyo Broadcasting participated.
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