Japan 2015 in Review: NBCU Buys Control of Theme Park, Sony Eyes Profit, Netflix Launches

Godzilla Tokyo Ambassador H 2015
Shinjuku tourism board

Comic Con will launch in the country, Nintendo's iconic boss died and a former Google executive rises at SoftBank.

The Japanese entertainment sector in 2015 closely watched new players' moves and saw some big deals.

New kid on the block SoftBank linked with new arrival Netflix as it looked for more media deals, while industry stalwart Sony during the year after its hack forecast a return to a profit in the fiscal year ending in March 2016 even though Sony Pictures cut its outlook for the period.

Nintendo returned to the black, but its president died, while NBCUniversal bought control of Universal Studios Japan. Plus, Japan submitted a female boxing tale as its foreign-language Oscar contender.

Here is a look at the big media and entertainment stories of 2015 in Japan.

Ex-Googler Rises at SoftBank 

After announcing a forecast-beating profit of $8.2 billion (?982.7 billion) in May, billionaire SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son appointed ex-Googler Nikesh Arora president, setting him up to succeed him at the helm of the Internet, telecom and investing giant.

Arora, who oversaw the company's Legendary Pictures investment and the unsuccessful attempt to buy Dreamworks Animation, announced he was buying a $480 million stake in the company as a "personal bet" on its future.

Prior to Netflix launching in Japan, the streaming video giant linked with SoftBank to offer its monthly subscriptions to the Japanese company's mobile subscribers.

Netflix Launches

Streaming video giant Netflix made its first foray into Asia in 2015, launching in Japan in the fall on its way to its goal of having a global presence by the end of 2016.

Netflix coming to Japan was compared, somewhat dramatically, to the Black Ships of Admiral Perry that opened the country's markets at the point of gun boats in the nineteenth century after centuries of isolation.

However, it remains unclear how Netflix will carve a niche for itself in Japan's already crowded VOD and SVOD market. So far, the company hasn't disclosed subscriber numbers in the country.    

Mixed Blessings for Sony 

Sony forecast a return to a full fiscal-year profit of $1.16 billion (¥140 billion) on revenue of $65.4 billion (¥7.9 trillion) as its PlayStation and music divisions performed strongly during the year. 

But its film unit cut its outlook for operating income nearly in half, to $290 million (?35 billion). Its CFO cited forecasts that had been "too optimistic" and the lack of new franchises.

In June, Sony announced plans to raise $3.6 billion (?440 billion) through an issue of new shares and bonds on Japanese and international capital markets, sending its stock lower, but two months later ratings agency Fitch raised its outlook on Sony debt on the prospect of better earnings. Still, its rating remains two notches below investment grade.

Nintendo Loses Iconic Leader

Japanese video game maker Nintendo posted a return to profit in 2015 and announced a tie-up with Comcast-owned NBCUniversal on theme park attractions based on some of its big franchises, which include Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda.

In July, however, Nintendo's CEO Satoru Iwata died, with tributes pouring in from around the world for the iconic video game industry figure.

The company in September announced that Tatsumi Kimishima, 65, would take over as head of Nintendo. The former banker also used to run the company's American operations.

NBCUniversal Strikes Big Deal

NBCUniversal in September announced it would take a majority stake in Universal Studios Japan (USJ) for $1.3 billion, the biggest international deal in the company's history.

USJ has been on a roll since the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, helping it to a record 12.7 million visitors in the fiscal year ended in March 2015.

Back then, it also revealed plans for a new theme park on the southern island of Okinawa.

Tokyo Film Fest Walks a Tightrope

The Tokyo International Film Festival in 2015 opened, appropriately enough, with Robert Zemeckis' The Walk.

After all, it tried to walk the tightrope between a shift towards more local content and trying to stay internationally relevant.

The fest still attracted a host of local and international stars to its opening, though the Japanese prime minister was a no-show for the first time in years.

Awards Winners and Hopefuls

The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero), the story of a young man searching for the truth about his kamikaze pilot grandfather that was 2014's biggest Japanese box-office hit, dominated the Japanese version of the Oscars, while Frozen won the best foreign film honor after its stellar $250 million local run.

Japan also submitted for the Oscar best foreign-language race 100 Yen Love, a tale of a thirty-something female loser who finds hope in boxing

The film didn't make the cut for the shortlist of the final nine contenders though.

Anime Goes the World

Anime favorite Doraemon, which overtook Godzilla a couple of years ago to become the most-watched franchise in Japanese cinematic history, followed up the strong domestic run of its latest installment, Stand by Me Doraemon in 2015.

After a wide and successful release in Asia and Europe, it also went on to become the first Japanese film released in China's booming market for three years, where it finished with north of $100 million, eclipsing its domestic box office.

Godzilla Set to Return

Talking of Japan's favorite monster, two anime helmers were named as directors of Toho's reboot of the franchise. It is due in the summer of 2016.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. and Legendary in October said their Godzilla 2 would hit theaters in 2018, followed by Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020.

In addition, Godzilla was in 2015 made an official resident and ambassador of a central Tokyo district that the creature has destroyed several times in various films over the years.

Comic Con Set for Tokyo, 'Star Wars' Back Story Emerges

In December, as Japan geared up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the daughter of legendary actor and Akira Kurosawa leading man Toshiro Mifune revealed that her father had turned down the roles of Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars.

The announcement came at an event hosted by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to announce Tokyo Comic Con 2016, the first edition of the fanboy convention in the Japanese capital.