Japan b.o. grows 17.5% in first half

Worst recession since WWII can't stop boxoffice rise

TOKYO – The Japanese boxoffice showed its recession-proof qualities as it grew 17.5% in the first half of 2009 to 94 billion yen ($990 million) on the back of strong domestic releases, despite the worst recession to hit the country in the post-war era.

Toho and its subsidiary Toho-Towa, which releases overseas titles, continued to dominate, cornering 45% of the market between them with combined sales of 42 billion yen.

Toho’s hits include “Rookies” (over $85 million and counting), the latest animated “Detective Conan” film ($37 million), “April Bride” ($33 million) “Crows Zero II” ($31 million) and “20th Century Boys” ($31 million.)

Toho-Towa clocked up the biggest overseas hit of the year so far with “Red Cliff: Part 2” ($58.5 million) which it co-distributed with Avex, which also invested heavily in the film – the most expensive Asian production to date.

The top five distributors were unchanged from last year, and Shochiku remained in third spot with 10.6 billion yen, helped by “Departures,” which clocked up more than half its 6.25 billion yen after its Academy Award win.

Warner was the most successful foreign distributor -- in sixth spot -- earning $51 million, almost half of which came from “The Strange Case of Benjamin Button.”

The figures, from entertainment trade website “Bunka Tsushin,” are compiled from the 13 top distributors - accounting for over 95% of the market.

Although the figures are encouraging for the Japanese industry, particularly given the economic meltdown, the first half of last year had a relative lack of blockbuster releases and was down 13.5% on 2007.

Domestic titles outsold Hollywood 60-40 in 2008, and looks set for another strong year, largely off the back of the tried and tested manga to TV drama to movie formula.