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Bellwether Toho hits 1 billion yen mark

Eight of studio's pics have scored $25.8 million or better

TOKYO — Toho, Japan’s biggest distrib, is on its way to a banner year, with 15 pics earning more than ¥1 billion ($8.6 million), the traditional marker of a commercial hit in the Japanese market, in the first 11 months of the year.

This compares with 18 pics that crossed the ¥1 billion line in 2005, but so far eight Toho pics have scored $25.8 million or better — megahit status in Japan — compared with six in 2005.

In terms of total B.O., Toho earned $482 million from January through November, beating last year’s 12-month total of $448 million.

The company was expecting to finish 2006 with $517 million or better, but the disappointing bow of the year’s last big pic, “Nana 2,” on Saturday may have put the kibosh on that projection.

On its opening weekend, the sequel to Kentaro Otani’s 2005 femme buddy drama grossed a disappointing $1.46 million, or only 31% of the first pic’s take. “Nana” finished with $34.7 million last year.

Toho is also Japan’s biggest exhib, and its bottom line has long been a barometer of the biz as a whole.

Last year, Toho accounted for 18 of the 24 local releases that earned ¥1 billion or more. The coin for most of the pics in its lineup, however, comes from outside companies, with TV webs being the biggest producers.

This year, Toho’s biggest earner is the Studio Ghibli toon “Tales From Earthsea” ($66 million), followed by the sea actioner “Umizaru 2: Test of Trust” ($61 million), the Koki Mitani comedy “Suite Dreams” ($52 million), the disaster pic “The Sinking of Japan” ($46 million) and the latest Pokemon toon ($29 million).