You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


Rookies shake up distribution as some vets struggle

TOKYO — Japan’s film distribution world continues to see major upheavals, with new players gathering strength while established companies find themselves on the brink of insolvency.

The latest round came in mid-October, when it was announced that financially strapped Gaga Communications would be bailed out by the country’s largest cable radio operator Usen Broad Networks. Usen invested a hefty $90 million in the distrib. This was the second financial injection for Gaga this year, after a $32 million private stock placement in February.

Gaga is not alone. In April, another leading independent distributor, Nippon Herald Films, was taken over by Kadokawa Pictures, the newly formed film production and distribution subsid of Kadokawa Holdings. It nabbed 40% of Nippon Herald stock for $27.3 million. Herald’s predicament was somewhat less dire than Gaga’s because of it was the co-distributor of the lucrative “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The root of the problems at both companies is similar: They paid high minimum guarantees for Hollywood films that also required exorbitant P&A commitments. The pics then didn’t perform as expected at the Japanese box office, where audiences are keener than ever to go for local or Asian (predominantly Korean) fare.

“The middle ground (among U.S. films) is slipping, with the big tentpoles working but lesser films being squeezed by Japanese and Asian product,” says Gaga’s CEO Tetsu Fujimura.

Kadokawa, meanwhile, has gone on a shopping spree. Besides its Nippon Herald investment, it increased its holdings, together with Sumitomo Trading, in 11 United Cinemas multiplexes. (Counting Herald’s cinemas, Kadokawa now has partial control over 133 screens.) Company also spent $100 million in June to pick up 2.83% of DreamWorks and the exclusive Japanese distribution rights to its films, cutting off UIP Japan from one of its most lucrative product pipelines.

Japan’s indie distribs now see Korean movies as key to their future strategy, as they are cheaper, the stars have big followings and turn over solid profits.

Ancillary biz, especially DVD sales, are key in recouping costs or making profits. Sales are increasing, albeit hampered by high retail prices on DVDs (average of $28), with arthouse and Japanese titles usually selling for $33. A theatrical release also is key in driving DVD sales, but difficult to attain for small distributors in a country with high P&A costs and overcrowded screens.

Japan at a glance
B.O.: $864 million*
Top title: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (Warner Bros., $119 million*)
Recent pickups:
“A Moment to Remember” Gaga)

Titles at AFM
The Hidden Blade: Veteran Yoji Yamada’s second samurai outing after “The Twilight Samurai,” which was nominated for a foreign-lingo Oscar this year. Pic opened the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival. (Shochiku)
Lorelei the Witch of the Pacific Ocean: Japan’s biggest-budget action feature is set on a submarine at the end of WWII. In post, eight-minute trailer to be shown at AFM. (Toho Intl.)
Swing Girls: Story of a group of high school girls getting into big band jazz has become a major hit on Tokyo screens, by filmmaker Shinobu Yaguchi (“Waterboys”). (Pony Canyon)

* through June 2004

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content