Absent strong tentpoles, take of foreign pix falls

TOKYO — Japan’s total B.O. fell 6% to ¥198,160 million ($1.7 million) in 2005, while admissions dropped 5.7%, to 160 million, according to figures announced last week by the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan (Eiren). Only one film released in 2005, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” passed the $85.5 million mark, hitting $98 million.

Absent strong tentpoles, the total take of foreign films slid 11.7%, to $995 million. The strong performance of Korean films, led by “A Moment to Remember” ($25.6 million) and “April Snow” ($23.5 million) pointed up the overall weakness of the Hollywood competition.

Among Hollywood distributors, Warners led the pack with three films in the top 10, including the No. 1 pic, “Harry Potter.” UIP claimed three top-10 spots, including No. 3 “War of the Worlds.”

Of the indies, Gaga Usen hit the biggest jackpot, with “Phantom of the Opera” ($35.9 million), “Shall We Dance?” ($21.4 million) and “A Moment to Remember.”

Boosted by a string of live action hits, domestic films gained 3.4% to $699 million, while grabbing a 41.3% market share — the first time they passed the 40% mark in eight years, when Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 smash “Princess Mononoke” lifted the local B.O.

Top pic overall — as well as top local pic for the year — was “Howl’s Moving Castle” (released in 2004) from Toho, with $167.5 million.

The number of Japanese films released increased 46 pics from the year before to 356, while foreign releases grew by 36 to 375, for a total of 731, the highest since 1989. Of this number, 26 Japanese and 36 foreign films passed the $8.5 million B.O. mark.

The video market continued to soften, with retail sales dropping 5.0% to $3.9 billion, while the number of film rentals grew 1.9% to 769 million.

The number of screens rose for the 12th consecutive year to 2,926, for a gain of 101 over 2004. Multiplexes account for 67% of this total. Eiren chairman Isao Matsuoka notes that attendance did not keep up with screen growth in 2005, but that fans are still watching films enthusiastically. “We want to shoot for a target of 200 million admissions this year,” he adds.

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