Industry earns cash at home, plaudits abroad

This year is shaping up as a super one for the Japanese film biz, at least the top end of it. Toho, long the Godzilla of local distribs, set a new company box office record for the January-to-August period with $501.1 million, 50.2% better than the same period last year.

Leading the Toho 2008 slate is the Hayao Miyazaki toon “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea,” which dominated the summer and looks likely to finish with at least $150 million, making it the third-highest-grossing domestic pic ever. No Hollywood import has come close to beating it at the B.O. this year.

Adding to the Toho bottom line, with B.O. of more than $70 million to date, is “Boys Over Flowers,” the screen adaptation of a high-rated TV drama series about a plucky working-class girl who finds love with a snobby-but-sincere rich guy. Overall, Toho plans to finish the year with 28 releases — and most so far have been finishing above the ¥1 billion ($9.5 million) mark designating hit status in the Japanese market.

Meanwhile, Japanese pics are finding more favor with fest programmers and juries abroad, including Cannes (which awarded Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s family drama “Tokyo Sonata” the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section), Venice (where three Japanese pics, including “Ponyo,” screened in competition this year) and Montreal (where “Departures,” Yojiro Takita’s look at a little-explored corner of Japan’s funeral industry, took the Grand Prix).

Latter pic, which was produced by Japan’s TBS network, was selected as Japan’s candidate for a foreign-language film Oscar and has been packing theaters since its Sept. 13 bow.

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