Matsumoto beats Kitano in box office battle

TOKYO — “Dainipponjin,” the debut pic by Hitoshi Matsumoto, won the opening round in its B.O. battle with “Kantoku banzai!,” the 13th pic by rival helmer Takeshi Kitano. Matsumoto’s pic scored 229 million yen ($1,892,561) on 221 screens on its opening weekend (June 2 and 3) for an average of 8,564, compared with Kitano’s $335,108 on 113 screens on the same two days for an average of $2,965. This figure does not include sneak preview screenings for “Dainipponjin” June 1.

 Both helmers are comics who stand at the pinnacle of the Japanese biz, headlining many top-rated TV shows in the course of their careers. Kitano, 60, is by far the senior as both a TV fixture and feature helmer, starting with “Violent Cop” in 1990. He has also won far more prizes, including a Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice fest for “Hanabi.”

 But Matsumoto, 43, managed to get “Dainipponjin,” a superhero parody, into the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes this year, while Kitano’s “Kantoku Banzai!” tried and failed to find a Cannes competition slot.

 Also, “Dainipponjin” got a bigger bow from distrib Shochiku, as well as more pre-release publicity for Matsumoto’s refusal to leak any info about the story or sked any press screenings prior to the pic’s world premiere at Cannes. “Kantoku banzai!” distrib Office Kitano was not quite as tight-lipped, though the media had few chances to view the pic prior to its June 2 bow.

 The B.O. duel between the two top comics has been hyped in the Japanese press, adding to aud interest in both pics.

 Shochiku expects “Dainipponjin” to finish with $12.4 million, making it a solid hit.  Kitano, however, had a bigger hit with the period actioner “Zatoichi,” which earned $23.5 million in 2003.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more