Japan B.O. scorching in summer

'A.I.,' 'Pearl Harbor,' 'Spirited Away' pushes up attendance

TOKYO — The end of summer shows no signs of cooling off in Japan, where scorching B.O. totals have lit up distribs. After a continuing decline in cinema attendance during the first six months, the estimates for July and August range between 150% and 170% higher than last summer.

“This only goes to show that if one has the right product, people will come to see movies,” says William Ireton, Warner Bros. Japan prexy.

Launching the season June 30 on a whopping 525 screens (the widest release ever of a foreign film), Warner’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” broke several B.O. records in its early days, and has cumed more than $72 million as of last week. WB plans to keep “A.I.” on screens until the third week of September and expects a total gross of about $90 million.

Buena Vista Intl. Japan prexy Dick Sano is equally pleased with the results for “Pearl Harbor,” which bowed July 14 on 424 screens and has since become BVI’s second biggest release in Japan with a B.O. of about $44 million; BVI expects the total to hit $58 million. Surprisingly, Japan proved pundits wrong as it turned out to be one of the best foreign markets for the WWII pic.

Animated winner

But Toho’s “Spirited Away” has dwarfed the competition.

The Hayao Miyazaki animated pic bowed July 20 on 318 screens and had grossed $107.6 million through Aug. 19.

“We were confident that we would be at least as big as the American (contenders),” says a Toho sales manager, “but this exceeds all our expectations.”

August also has seen the release of UIP’s “Jurassic Park III,” which opened Aug. 4 and has raked in more than $27 million, and Fox’s “Planet of the Apes,” which has harvested $24 million-plus in three weeks.

Changes in the Japanese market mean that, as in the U.S., major pics make about 70% of their B.O. total in the first two to three weeks in release. Also, suburban multiplexes now account for more than two-thirds of grosses, whereas eight years ago it was cinemas in the nine major cities that counted the bulk of admissions.