Miyazaki's 'Ponyo' was biggest hit in 2008

TOKYO — Local pics took a whopping 59.5% share at the Japanese box office in 2008, up from 47% in 2007, according to figures from the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan (Eiren).

Total B.O. for the year slipped 1.8% to 195 billion yen ($2.2 billion), while total attendance slid 1.7% to 160.5 million.

One factor in the decline, frequently noted by industry observers last year, was the decision to move back the release of the latest “Harry Potter” pic from 2008 to 2009. Series entries have regularly earned $100 million or better at the Japanese B.O., which would have been enough to increase total B.O. into the positive column.

There were 806 releases — 418 local pics and 388 foreign — just four fewer than the previous year. The number of screens increased year-on-year from 3,221 to 3,359, despite the closure of some multiplexes in over-screened areas and widespread industry concern that, in a soft economy, there are too many theaters chasing a declining audience base.

The biggest hit was helmer Hayao Miyazaki’s toon “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” about a mermaid who becomes friends with a human boy. It took $174 million, far outclassing the competition. However, it was only the fourth-largest B.O. for a Miyazaki pic.

The top foreign hit was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” distribbed by Paramount, which earned $64.2 million.

Top local distrib was Toho, which released eight of the top 10 local pics, including “Ponyo.” Seven of the top 10 B.O. winners were Japanese, two were from Hollywood — “Indiana Jones” and “I Am Legend.” The third, “Red Cliff Part 1,” was a Chinese period epic directed by John Woo.

Some 28 Japanese pics earned 1 billion yen ($11.2 million) or better, traditionally considered the mark of a hit in the domestic market. By comparison, 24 foreign pics achieved this milestone.

The video market continued its long decline, with stores sales falling 11.2% year-on-year to $4 billion.

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