Japanese screen additions outpace admissions

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LAS VEGAS -- While the multiplexing of Japan is continuing at a steady pace, admissions have leveled off during the past two years -- a situation that the nation's exhibitors addressed during a "Focus on Japan" seminar Monday at ShoWest.

In terms of revenue, Japan, where 2006 boxoffice amounted to $1.74 billion, is second only to the North American market, comprising the U.S. and Canada. But in terms of admissions, which numbered about 164 million in 2006, the country ranks behind the U.S./Canada and France and is tied with the burgeoning film marketplace in neighboring South Korea.

United Cinemas president Tetsuo Tsukada, the seminar's moderator, laid out those stats as he noted that on average Japan contributes about 10% of the grosses to a worldwide hit -- in the case of last year's "Mission: Impossible III," Japan kicked in 11% of the total. At the same time, Japanese-grown product is commanding a larger share of the local market, and in 2006 Japanese films commanded a larger piece of total boxoffice than imported films for the first time in 21 years.

But even though audience growth has been flat, busy Japanese distributors have been screening the country with new installations. In 2006, the nation's screens numbered 3,062, with multiplexes outnumbering nonmultiplexes by 2,230 screens to 832.

Masahura Ina, director/head of sales and business affairs for Toho Cinemas, Japan's largest chain, predicted that the number of screens could rise to 3,500 even though audiences haven't been growing accordingly.

Jesse Lee, managing director, Japan, at 20th Century Fox International, compared Japan with South Korea. Japan's population of 127 million dwarfs South Korea's population of 49 million, yet both countries attracted about 164 million admissions in 2006. Looking to Korea's example, Lee argued that "Japan has room to support another 2,000 screens."

Isao Matsumoto, director of the film-buying department at Warner Mycal Cinemas, described some of the initiatives his chain is taking to attract customers. They include providing "support centers" in multiplexes to assist older moviegoers because the Japanese population is aging; aggressive e-ticketing practices; adopting 4K digital systems to ensure a "wow factor"; and introducing a "virus washer," which purifies the air in auditoriums.

Naoshi Yoda, managing director of the T-Joy cinema chain, also argued for the importance of converting to digital. In 2005, he said, T-Joy upgraded all its theaters to DCI digital specs. He added that that movie houses must evolve from "cinema complexes" to "entertainment complexes."
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