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Japan distrib’n update

Record-breaking toon 'Spirited' sets tone for local B.O.

TOKYO — Film distribution in Japan this year is defined by one simple movie: “Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away).

The animated feature, directed by animator Hayao Miyazaki and released by Japan’s Toho Co. on July 20, clocked 22.5 billion yen ($189.1 million) as of Oct. 1 and broke the local all-time audience record previously held by “Titanic” on Sept. 26 with 16,878,955 visitors.

Still going strong on 313 screens in early October, the ghostly fairy tale is sure to beat more box office records this month.

This achievement is even more impressive when considering the onslaught of major U.S. pics. Crush started with a megarelease of “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” late in June, followed by “Pearl Harbor,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Jurassic Park III,” all of which grossed remarkably well, especially “A.I.” ($80.7 million as of Oct. 1), and “Pearl Harbor” ($57.4 million).

As much as the summer season belonged to Toho and to the U.S. majors, the first six months of the year were dominated by Japan’s growing Gaga Communications. The 15-year-old company was the most successful distrib during the first half of the year, mostly based on its tremendous B.O. — close to $40 million for “Hannibal” and a hefty $22 million for “The Mexican.”

Back in swing with “Rush Hour 2,” which went out via a joint distribution deal with Shochiku on Sept. 22 and made an inspiring $6.9 million in its first week, Gaga is sending CEO-prexy of Gaga Pictures Kaz Tadashiki and a whole acquisition team to this year’s London Screenings and Mifed.

The continued success of some South Korean pictures, albeit on a much smaller scale, on Japan’s screens remains a surprise of sorts. “Joint Security Area JSA,” the biggest domestic hit in Korea last year, harvested no less than $9.7 million on Japanese screens, jointly distributed by independents Cinequanon and Amuse Pictures.

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