Japan TV: Muscle behind the movies

Influx of money from nation's TV stations helping movies

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UPDATED 4 p.m., Mar. 25, 2009

HONG KONG -- The renaissance in Japanese film, with last month's historic double Oscar success followed by best film, screenwriter and actor nods at Monday night's Asian Film Awards, has been financed in large part by an influx of money from the nation's TV stations.

Everything from big anime projects to TV drama adaptations to the Academy Award-winning "Departures" has been benefiting from the coin. With almost every production of any size now being funded by consortium, the role of TV stations has been growing in importance.

As recently as 2000, Japanese films were being outgrossed 2-to-1 by overseas productions in the domestic market. By last year, home-grown films had almost reversed that position, more than doubling their total boxoffice take.

Six of the top 10 grossers of 2008 were produced by TV stations as spinoffs from original small screen dramas. They include "Boys Over Flowers: Final" from TBS and "Suspect X" from Fuji TV, a pioneer in the trend. Others from the top 10 include "L Change the World" from NTV's "Death Note" and "Partners: The Movie" from a TV Asahi series.

It's not only drama series' adaptations getting a boost from TV cash: TBS invested in "Departures" and Fuji TV led the consortium behind "The Magic Hour," which earned more than $40 million at the Japanese boxoffice.

"As the budget for Japanese films has increased, even when we make a movie based on one of our drama series, we still work with partners," a TBS spokesperson said.

Even pubcaster NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) is getting in on the film production game with a theatrical sequel to its award-winning finance drama "Hagetaka" (Vulture).

Unsurprisingly, TV stations make full use of their resources to promote their films on their channels. TBS broadcast a special episode of its hit baseball series "Rookies" last fall, which it used to announce the big-screen spinoff, due for release in May. Fuji TV aired an episode of "Galileo," the basis for "Suspect X" -- dealing with the early life of the lead character -- on the day the movie hit theaters.

The current downturn in advertising also gives TV stations the opportunity to fill empty ad slots with plugs for movies in which they have stakes.

Not everyone is enamored with the increasingly active stance of the TV stations in big-budget productions. Some smaller companies feel they're being squeezed by the might of the majors.

Says Megumi Fukuda from Hexagon Pictures, an independent: "It can be difficult to compete with the TV stations when they put so much money and marketing effort behind their big pictures."
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