Financially strapped Shochiku trims films

TOKYO — Financially strapped Japanese major Shochiku plans to cut the number of films it produces and eliminate its distribution network for domestic films as part of a restructuring plan.

The new distribution system will start in June, when the company activates a combined system for domestic and foreign films. Shochiku has 100 theaters on its contract-based distribution circuit that play Japanese films distributed by the company.

The new system is expected to boost Hollywood films by allowing them greater access to the Japanese market.

Shochiku, which failed to have any films place in the top 10 moneymakers among domestic movies in 1998, has not been filling up its theaters with its recent offerings.

Supply foreign product

The combined distribution system will distribute Japanese films from the company on a periodic basis and supply foreign product when Shochiku does not have local movies for the theaters, company officials said.

Shochiku president Nobuyoshi Otani said, “The move does not mean that we will stop making movies.” He stressed that the company will be more selective in its production and distribution choices.

Shochiku announced earlier this year that it was expecting to post its first net loss since 1973 with a projected loss of about $82 million for the business year that ended Feb. 28.

Since Otani took over the company in a boardroom coup last January, the company has closed its movie theme park, scaled down its multiplex cinema construction plans with the American firm Cinemark and dropped its Cinema Japanesque movie series.

The series, launched under ousted president Toru Okuyama, lasted about a year and brought Shochiku a share of the 1997 Palme d’Or award at Cannes for the film “The Eel.”

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