Japanese films grab majority of box office

Local pics account for 53% of business for 2006

Japanese pics will grab a majority share of the local B.O. in 2006 — the first such victory in 21 years — according to figures released by the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan, also known as Eiren.

From January to the end of November, Eiren has reported, total B.O. in Japan was $1.48 billion, with local pics accounting for $792.4 million, or 53%.

Given the strong showing of Japanese pics so far in December, Eiren predicts they will finish the year over the ¥100 billion ($847.5 million) mark.

Local pics took $692 million in 2005, or 41.3% of the $1.69 billion total. Since total B.O. is expected to remain about the same this year, the share of Japanese pics will easily exceed 50%.

No Japanese pic has passed the $85 million mark this year, but six have scored $42 million or more, topped by Studio Ghibli toon “Tales From Earthsea” at $65 million, the sea actioner “Umizaru 2: Test of Trust” ($60 million) and Koki Mitani’s comedy “Suite Dreams” ($52 million).

This month local B.O. got a boost from “Love and Honor,” a samurai drama by vet helmer Yoji Yamada that has scored $14.4 million since its Dec. 1 bow and is on track to become the biggest hit in Yamada’s four-decade career.

Meanwhile, Hollywood pics have been struggling beyond a handful of blockbusters, led by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which won the summer — and the year — with a B.O. take of $88 million.