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Hollywood Enjoys Rare Dominance of Japan Box Office in First Half Year

Bucking a decade-long box office trend toward local films, Hollywood dominated the Japanese movie-going in the first half of 2018. But the respite in the world’s number three theatrical market may not last.

The number one and two films for the January-June period, “Detective Conan: Zero the Enforcer” ($76 million) and “Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island” ($47 million), were local and the new entries in long-running anime series. Counting the $34 million for number five “Shoplifters,” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme-d’Or-winning family drama, Japanese films in the top ten earned a total of $157 million. That compares with the $209 million earned by the seven Hollywood films in the top ten.

Hollywood’s successes were an eclectic bunch. Fox’s “The Greatest Showman” beat any of the franchise titles, earning $48 million. “The Boss Baby” earned $30.7 million for Toho-Towa, making Japan the number two international result for the Fox comedy.

The top foreign distributor for the first half was Disney, which released number two “Coco” ($43 million) and number six “Avengers: Infinity War” ($32.5 million), the highest-earning Marvel comics movie and the only one in the top ten. Among Disney’s disappointments were “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which took $15 million, and “Black Panther,” which could only manage $13 million.

One factor in the poor Japanese score was the relative weakness of releases by Toho, for decades Japan’s leading local exhibitor and distributor. “Conan” and “Doraemon” were both Toho releases, but “Shoplifters” – the top-ranking Japanese live-action film, was handled by Gaga. Toho’s highest-earning live-action release, the high school drama “Chihayafuru Part 3,” made a so-so $14 million to finish at number 15.  All in all, Toho accounted for seven of the top twenty, the most of any local distributor.

Japanese fans traditionally focus their film-going on peak holiday periods, including the upcoming school summer vacation (Japanese kids are in school until the latter part of July and return at the end of August. Distributors adjust their release schedules accordingly.

On July 20, Toho will open its biggest anime of the summer – and possibly the year: Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai of the Future.” Based on Hosoda’s original script, the film relates the adventures of a four-year-old boy who meets his time-traveling future sister.  The box office for Hosoda’s films has grown steadily with each release since his 2006 breakthrough “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” culminating with “The Boy and the Beast,” which made $52 million in 2015. With its family-friendly story and characters, “Mirai” has the potential to do even better.

Among live-action summer releases, a stand-out is “Code Blue,” an action drama about a medical helicopter team. Backed by the Fuji TV network and based on a hit Fuji TV series, the film is set for a July 27 bow with Toho distributing. Backers expect a box office of $30 million or more.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Japan, the leader in local production among Hollywood distributors, will release “Bleach” on July 20. Based on a best-selling comic (120 million paperback volumes) the film stars Sota Fukushi (“Blade of the Immortal”) as a teenager thrown into a life-and-death struggle with supernatural forces.

Warner is also distributing “Gintama 2,” the sequel to Yuichi Fukuda’s wacky period comedy of last year. With earnings of $34 million, “Gintama” was 2017’s biggest Japanese live-action hit. But, like most sequels, “Gintama 2” may struggle to equal that success following its August 17 bow.

The summer ‘s big local movie could be “Pokemon the Movie: Everyone’s Story.” Released on July 15 on 373 screens by Toho, this 21st installment in the long-running anime series made $4.4 million on its opening weekend, nearly the same as the previous “Pokemon” title, which finished with a sterling  $31.5 million last year.

Significantly, “Bleach,” “Gintama 2” and “Pokemon” are all backed by the TV Tokyo network, whose president recently told the press that he expects this trio to make a total of $100 million. Whatever the relative fortunes of its distributors, TV Tokyo looks likely to enjoy a happy and prosperous summer.

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