After a fabulous 2006, when Japanese pics grabbed a 50% market share for the first time in 21 years, distribs of local product saw B.O. slide through the first eight months of 2007. Lacking a megahit on the order of last year’s “Tales From Earthsea,” which finished with $67.7 million, the home team struggled against Hollywood heavy hitters, particularly new hit installments in the “Pirates,” “Harry Potter” and “Spider-Man” franchises. Accordingly, market share for domestic pics fell 10 points year-on through the summer, to 43%. All is not lost, though: A stronger second-half performance by the locals, led by the megahit legal drama “Hero,” has given indie distribs, especially leader Toho, something to cheer about.
Toppers: Isao Matsuoka, chairman; Hideyuki Takai, president
B.O.: $300 million
Top pic: “Hero” ($49.9 million)
In brief: Toho is, like its signature character, the Godzilla of the Japanese distribution jungle, handling the vast majority of top-grossing pics. Hits this year include the Fuji TV-produced legal drama, “Hero,” the biggest Japanese pic of the year, as well as the period swashbuckler “Dororo,” which finished with $30 million, and the Masayuki Suo courtroom drama “I Just Didn’t Do It,” which is Japan’s submission for the 2007 foreign-language Oscar. The company also operates the biggest exhibition chain in the country, with 529 screens.
Topper: Jay Sakomoto, president
B.O.: n/a for 2007
Top pic: “Kitaro” ($20.3 million)
In brief: Perennial No. 2 at the box office, Shochiku has long been known for comic-but-warmhearted pics. In recent years, however, the studio has been branching out into other genres, particularly animation. One surprise hit this year was “Summer Vacation With Coo,” a Studio Ghibliesque toon by Koichi Hara about the friendship between a boy in a Tokyo suburb and a Japanese leprechaun. Shochiku’s biggest pic this year, “Kitaro,” is a live-action fantasy based on an iconic comic by Shigeru Mizuki about the adventures of a boy goblin and his otherworldly companions. At AFM, Shochiku’s slate is headed by actioner “Midnight Eagle,” a Universal Japan coproduction about the search for a downed U.S. spy plane. Pic is expected to be a holiday season hit.
Topper: Yusuke Okada
B.O.: $56 million
Top pic: “Masked Rider” ($11.9 million)
In brief: Toei was long famous for its samurai (warrior) and yakuza (Japanese gangster) pics, but has since ventured into other genres. It has ridden the recent wave of patriotic/nationalistic pics, including last year’s smash WWII sea epic “Yamato” and this year’s controversial kamikaze pic “For Those We Love.” Its biggest hit so far this year is a feature based on the enduring “Masked Rider” franchise, whose title hero is a motorbike-riding, grasshopper-looking cyborg. The company also distributes the toons of its internationally renowned Toei Animation subsid, including the popular “One Piece” series.
Topper: Masao Teshima, president
B.O.: $21.8 million
Top pic: “Sakuran” ($6.3 million)
In brief: Founded in 1998 through a merger of foreign-pic distrib Asmik and local-pic producer Ace Pictures, Asmik Ace today continues to mix foreign and domestic pics in its lineup. Its biggest pic this year, with $13.5 million, is “Shrek 3,” which Asmik Ace co-released with Kadokawa Entertainment — its fellow member of the Kadokawa media group. Among its in-house produced pics, the leader so far this year is “Sakuran,” first-time helmer Mika Ninagawa’s flamboyantly colorful look at the lives of oiran — feudal-era prostitutes. Upcoming is Francois Girard’s period romance “Silk,” which closes this year’s Tokyo Intl. Film Festival
Topper: Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, chairman
B.O.: $11.2 million
Top pic: “Keroro Gunso 2” ($4.3 million)
In brief: A member of the Kadokawa media group, Kadokawa Pictures raised its international profile with the “One Missed Call” series of horror pics about cell phones inhabited by evil spirits. The company also has had success with its feature animation, including Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” which swept local anime awards last year, and the two “Keroro Gunso” (Sgt. Frog) toons, based on a popular comic manga and TV show, about a froglike alien that references and parodies other Japanese toons.
Note: 2007 box office through Aug. 31