Japan Set to Beat $2.5B for 2010 Box Office

3D prices boost overall take as Hollywood loses ground to domestic fare.

TOKYO – As 2010 draws to a close, it looks like another bumper box office year as the Japanese industry continues to blaze a trail into the future, even as it takes occasional longing looks to its past.

Boosted by premium ticket prices for 3D, Japan's domestic box office looks set to have its best ever year in 2010 -- on target to beat its record 211 billion yen ($2.5 billion) total of 2004.

The current strength of the Japanese yen is boosting earnings for those Hollywood movies that can still pull in movie-goers: the 10 billion yen box office benchmark that defines a blockbuster in Japan is now worth about $120 million, as compared to about $85 million a few years ago. While overseas films have lost ground to domestic fare in recent years, 2010 saw Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3break the 10 billion barrier.  

As 3D has been establishing itself as a way to garner extra revenue from a shrinking young population, domestic productions such as Umizaru: The Last Message, have started to appear. The third film in a series about navy divers – which saw a Fuji TV drama series broadcast between the release of the first and second installments – is the biggest domestic live-action film of the year, pulling in nearly $100 million. 

This year’s Studio Ghibli animation, Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Borrower Arrietty) was the biggest grosser of 2010, topping $100 million.

Samurai films had something of a revival this year with no less than four of them in the top 10 box office rankings on one late October weekend. Takashi Miike’s remake of 13 Assassins opened at Venice this year and has already been hailed by some as a classic of the genre. Marrying the ancient and the modern is nothing unusual in Japan, and Miike has recently wrapped up a 3D version of the samurai classic Seppuku (Harakiri,) to be released next year.

Speaking of samurai, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Akira Kurosawa was celebrated at festivals and events throughout the year. Meanwhile, Yoji Yamada -- to some the heir to Kurosawa -- will mark his half-century in the business by revisiting the Yasujiro Ozu classic Tokyo Story. He will begin shooting the homage -- to be titledTokyo Kazoku (Family) – in the spring next year for release in January 2012.

Yamada’s Ototo (About Her Brother) closed this year’s Berlin festival, where the director was also honored with a Berlinale Camera award in appreciation of one of its favorite sons. Shinobu Terajima became the first Japanese actress to win the Silver Bear at Berlin since 1975, for her portrayal of a wife struggling to cope with a husband who returns limbless from WWII, in Koji Wakamatsu’s Caterpillar.

Another Japanese best actress winner was Eri Fukatsu at Montreal Film Festival, for Akunin (Villain), which has gone on to be nominated for 15 Japan Academy Prizes. A few years back a win at Montreal was the catalyst for recognition of Okuribito (Departures), that ended with a best Foreign Language Oscar victory. There will be no repeat of that feat for Villain though, as this year’s Japan slot for the Oscars has gone to Kokuhaku (Confessions.)