The king of Japan was the Toho-distributed and Hayao Miyazaki-helmed animated pic “Spirited Away.” Film overtook “Titanic” ($219 million cume) in autumn to become the highest-grossing film ever at the Japanese box office with some $227 million by the end of the year. No other local product came anywhere near it, and the best foreign contender was Warner Bros.’ “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” with receipts of $78 million.
The only exception: With a release start of Dec. 1, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as it’s known overseas) assembled a whopping $122.4 million by the end of the month and is set to become one of the top foreign pics ever.
It was a bumper year for Toho on other fronts, too. “Pokemon 4” made a cool $30 million, followed by $24 million for the costume and special effects extravaganza “Onmyoji.” Out of 15 Japanese productions exceeding the 1 billion-yen mark ($7.6 million at today’s exchange rate) at the box office during 2001, Toho distributed 10. Five of those were animated features, and one was the newest installment of the Godzilla series.
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Toei Co., Japan’s last fully integrated studio, came a distant second. Its top earner was the December 2000-released feature “Battle Royal” with receipts of $23.8 million; followed by animated pics “One Piece” and “Digimonster” ($23 million) and the romantic drama “Hotaru” ($17.8 million). Additional strong grossers were all toons from the Toei Animation subsid. Feature “Go,” selected as Japan’s entry for the foreign-language-Oscar, disappointed at the box office but received good reviews.
If animation features remain Japan’s safest box office bet, next to movie versions of bestselling books, the Japanese-produced CG feature “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” should have done better business, especially with a reported production budget of $137 million. After disappointing in the States and in Europe, the Square Pictures-produced computer epic, based on a series of very successful videogames, barely made it to the 1 billion-yen mark at the Japanese box office.
Heavy advertising by distributor Gaga Communications and its partners did not help, and production company Square Co., parent of Square Pictures, licked its wounds and announced an end to film production, to concentrate instead on its main staple of videogames.
South Korea’s booming film industry made further inroads into the Japanese market with a successful release of the military/friendship saga “JSA,” which reached a respectable $9 million and gave a big boost to independent distrib Cinequanon.
The combination of Korea’s production boom, the soccer World Cup to be held this year in Japan and Korea, and a new-found interest in things Korean led to several Japanese-Korean co-productions. Toho is going to release its suspense drama “Seoul” in February, and Cinequanon, with Japanese and Korean partners, expects to release political thriller “KT” later this spring.
Film version of a Kazuki Kaneshiro’s bestseller recounting the coming of age of a Japanese-born Korean youth. Directed by Isao Yukisada, film is the Japanese entry for the foreign-language Oscar. Pic did not do well in Japan but compensated in Korea and is one of Toei’s main offerings at the mart. Toei is also bringing costumer “Genji: A Thousand Year Love” and the Ninja tale “Akakage” (Red Shadow), which flopped at the local box office.
Toho toplines its offers with the upcoming Japanese-Korean co-production, an action drama involving two police officers from Tokyo and Seoul. Directed by Masahiko Nagasawa. Toho also brings the new Godzilla installment.
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More eclectic fare will be on offer from Shochiku, like this comedy-horror-musical, directed by Takashi Miike, about a dysfunctional family and their shared dream of opening a guest house in the countryside. Pic stars Kiyoshiro Imawano, Keiko Matsuzaka and Naomi Nishida. Also on Shochiku’s sales list are the Hur Jin-Ho-directed festival darling “One Fine Spring Day” and the Japanese drama “To Dance With the White Dog.”