Premieres hot new ticket in Tokyo

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TOKYO -- Move over Hollywood. The star-studded, red-carpet premiere was once the almost exclusive property of Tinseltown. But now Tokyo is grabbing the limelight.

The fifth Harry Potter film, "The Order of the Phoenix," will be out in Japan ahead of other markets, with Warner Bros. officials confirming that Daniel Radcliffe and other key castmembers will fly in to Tokyo when it makes its debut here June 28 -- ahead of the glitzy July 3 event scheduled for London.

"Spider-Man 3" got the trend off the ground with a spectacular launch in Tokyo on April 16, while the third installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise -- "At World's End" -- made its Asian splash here May 23.

Japanese filmgoers might have been treated to a third premiere in short order had delays in postproduction not apparently scuppered plans for a mid-June premiere here for the Bruce Willis starrer "Live Free or Die Hard."

"Japan has always been the biggest territory outside North America, and the final boxoffice figures in Japan have sometimes outgrossed the U.S. take," said Noriyuki Sano, head of the publicity division at Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan. "But there are other considerations, not least the fact that there is less piracy here than in other countries, which makes companies more lenient about releasing titles here first."

There have been other film premieres in Japan, including Tom Cruise's "War of the Worlds," Sano pointed out, but none of them were on the scale of "Spider-Man 3."

It became the fastest movie to hit the ¥3 billion mark ($24.7 million), reaching that figure in just six days, and more than 4 million people had seen it in its first 20 days of release.

Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Chow Yun Fat and Jerry Bruckheimer were on hand at Tokyo's Budokan Hall for the Asian premiere of "At World's End." Kenji Nakamura, executive director of marketing at Buena Vista in Japan, said, "Japan is the only country where we could have a premiere as well as the U.S."

"Japan accounts for between 10% and 15% of total global sales of a movie, so it's a huge market for us," Nakamura said. "That is the main reason why the Hollywood studios put priority on their presence here and send the stars."

But in addition to the financial considerations, facilities and venues in Tokyo are second to none, he added, with the Budokan seating 6,000 people.

On top of that, the technology in Tokyo ranks with the best in the world, said Masaharu Ina, director of sales and business affairs at Toho Cinemas Ltd. "Spider-Man 3" made its global debut on Toho's 4K-DCI Pure Cinema projection system at its Roppongi Hills flagship theater.

"Japan is a hugely important market for us because it builds a buzz through the entire market," John Flanagan, vp marketing for 20th Century Fox in Tokyo, said. "The Japanese love Hollywood movies, and when it's a big picture, like 'Live Free or Die Hard,' then it makes absolute sense to come here first. And as long as the Japanese public enjoys having the spectacle of world premieres and first screenings, then I think it will attract more companies to do the same thing."

The domestic industry also seems to be getting a boost from the Hollywood presence. "Movies are working together rather than against each other," she said. "Look how many more Japanese actors are going abroad now and are getting recognized. Look at the increase in collaboration on titles."

Added Kaori Shoji, a film critic for the Japan Times newspaper: "I don't think it will have a major impact on Japanese movies or whether more or less are made. Japan produced 435 films last year, which is an astounding number if you consider that some have been writing off the domestic movie industry as drawing its last gasp for the previous decade or more."

Fox's Flanagan agreed. "Hollywood titles don't detract from Japanese films over the year, though they may jockey for the best position," he said.
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