Biz boom heats up talent pool

Japanese film prod'n at highest level in three decades

Chinese and Korean pics may generate more international heat, but the Japanese film biz is bigger — and booming. With 356 releases in 2005 alone, production is at its highest level in three decades. Meanwhile, the market share of local product rose to 41.3% last year, a figure not reached since Hayao Miyazaki’s monster hit anime “Princess Mononoke” lifted the entire local B.O. in 1997.

Driving the current renaissance is the desire of TV webs and other media powerhouses to own content, not merely license it from abroad.

Another factor is the Japanese government’s newfound love, affirmed through funding and regulatory initiatives, for the local film industry. Bureaucrats now see the biz as an important driver of exports, after neglecting it for decades.

Still another factor is a building boom that has added more than a thousand screens since 1993, when the industry hit a new postwar low of 1,734.

Encouraged by these developments, banks and securities companies are joining with media partners to launch film funds in numbers not seen since the economic bubble of the 1980s and early 1990s. The investment influx has resulted in not only more production, but bigger budgets, at least for projects with mainstream appeal. The Japanese industry isn’t about to make $200 million epics anytime soon, but it can afford the sort of effects and even foreign locations that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.

Most fundamentally, the talent pool is widening, as more young directors, actors and other talents enter what was once seen as a dying industry. Some studied in the U.S., others first made their names in TV and still others have been movie geeks from day one. There are also the veterans who are relaunching their careers or seeking out new challenges. What they all have in common is a proven ability to connect with auds, local and otherwise.

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