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The Japanese market would seem to be flourishing, averaging some 800 pics — almost evenly divided between domestics and imports — released annually since 2006, the year when local film production truly took off. In reality, however, a growing numbers of pics are competing for a static number of viewers — annual admissions have peaked at about the 160 million mark — while a handful of megahits are grabbing larger market shares.

“There is no middle in the Japanese market anymore — it’s all either big commercial films or small arthouse releases,” says industry veteran Kiyo Jo, prexy of indie production and sales company Gold View. 

 Local distribs of foreign product, arthouse or otherwise, have accordingly become more cautious in their buying strategies, entering into joint distrib deals for major pics or, like former indie powerhouse Gaga, even exiting the acquisitions game altogether.

For local indie producers, this shift has made it harder to raise coin, forcing reductions in budgets. They have compensated by making more pics on DV, but this strategy, notes Jo, has its downside. “Those films are harder to sell abroad because the production quality is not that good,” she notes. “And even if they are interested, buyers try to bid you down to nothing. It’s a dilemma.”

 

CINEMA STATS

Total 2008 box office: $1.95 billion

Total 2008 releases: 806

Biggest indie hit: “Ponyo” ($155 million)

Local breakout for 2009: “20th Century Boys”

PICKUPS:

  • “Broken Embraces” (Shochiku)