WWII pic wins box office battle for the year

TOKYO — “Yamato: The Last Battle,” a WWII naval action pic that has roused the ire of Japan’s neighbors for its flag-waving theatrics, looks likely to become the No. 1 Japanese hit of 2005.

Last weekend, its first, “Yamato” grossed $2.9 million on 265,542 admissions at 324 screens, compared with a $2.7 million two-day total for “King Kong,” which opened on nearly 800 screens the same day.

Distributor Toei projects a take of $51.3 million, compared with $36 million for “The Negotiator,” the Katsuyuki Motohiro-helmed thriller that is the highest-earning Japanese film so far this year.

Directed by Junya Sato and starring Takashi Sorimachi and Shidou Nakamura, “Yamato” marks the comeback bid of Haruki Kadokawa, a producer who was Japan’s leading hitmaker for nearly two decades until a drug arrest in 1993 and a bout with cancer nearly ended his career — and his life.

Kadokawa told the packed opening-day house at the Marunouchi Toei Theater that he would ask Toho chairman Isao Matsuoka to boost the number of screens for “Yamato” to 500. “To win the battle, you have to be willing to go anywhere,” he said.

Reaching out to a rival distributor is all but unheard of in the Japanese industry, but Kadokawa has been making his own rules since he began his career with 1976 hit mystery “The Inagami Family.”

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