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Japanese film industry seeks inspiration in Asia

This image released by Warner Bros Pictures shows Jason Momoa (left), and Amber Heard in a scene from ‘Aquaman’, which grossed over $500mn globally. (AP)

‘Spider-Verse’ shoots to opening weekend victory in China

LOS ANGELES, Dec 26, (RTRS): The official Japanese box office numbers for 2018 are not yet in – the Motion Picture Producers’ Association of Japan (Eiren) will announce them in late January – but preliminary figures don’t look great for the home team.

“Code Blue: The Movie”, a medical thriller based on a Fuji TV series, was the year’s highest-earning film at $83 million, according to the Private Life entertainment data and ranking site, but only three of the box office top ten were Japanese. The other two, “Detective Conan: Zero the Enforcer”, at $82 million, and “Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island”, at $48 million, were entries in long-running anime series.

A total of 29 Japanese films made JPY1 billion ($9.0 million) or more. This compares with 38 that passed the same milestone in 2017.

Faced with the prospect of more decline at home, as Japan’s aging population continues to trend down, the Japanese film industry is increasingly looking abroad for everything from new markets to fresh inspirations.

In the latter category are Japanese remakes of foreign films. Examples include local versions of “Ghost” (1990), “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Sideways” (2004), but in recent years sources of material have been shifting from Hollywood to Asia, while production numbers have ticked upward. Among such Asian film remakes include: “Sunny: Our Hearts Beat Together”, Hitoshi One’s reworking of a 2011 Korean female buddy movie; “You Are the Apple of My Eye”, Yasuo Hasegawa’s remake of the 2011 Giddens Ko hit about teen romance in Taiwan; and “Memoirs of a Murderer”, Yu Irie’s 2017 detective thriller based on the 2012 Korean film “Confession of Murder”.

Segments

Also, though not a remake, “Ten Years Japan” was inspired by “Ten Years”, a 2015 omnibus speculating about the state of Hong Kong in ten years’ time. Supervised by this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda, the film features segments by five young Japanese directors set in a near-future Japan.

Despite all this Asian ferment, the highest scoring Japanese remake is Yuichi Fukuda’s “50 First Kisses”, which earned $11.0 million. It is based on “50 First Dates”, a 2004 romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler.

Co-productions between Japanese and Asian partners are also on the upswing. They may be boosted by the co-production treaty Japan and China formalized in May of this year. For Japanese filmmakers the treaty’s big advantage is that co-produced films can avoid Chinese import quotas on foreign films.

Among the first to benefit from the treaty, however, was Hong-Kong-born director Kenneth Bi. His romantic drama “Wish You Were Here” stars Japanese actor Takao Osawa and is partly set in Japan’s Hokkaido.

The biggest Japan-China coproduction of the past couple of years was “Legend of the Demon Cat”, made before the treaty was signed. It is a historical fantasy directed by Chinese veteran Chen Kaige and based on a novel by Japan Mineo Yoneyama. Backed by a consortium that included Kadokawa – the novel’s publisher and the film’s co-distributor – “Legend” earned $15 million in Japan following its Feb 24 release. That was disappointing, given the scale of its budget and the $200 million of sets later turned into a theme park.

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LOS ANGELES: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” flew to the top of China’s box office this weekend, earning $26 million. That marked the fourth-largest opening of all time for an animated Hollywood film in the Middle Kingdom.

It also marked the best opening of the year for a foreign animated feature. The figure beat earlier studio projections of $17.5 million for the three-day weekend.

Though already in its third weekend, “Aquaman” stayed a close second in China with a three-day intake of $23.4 million.

With a cumulative gross of $233 million, the undersea epic is now one of Warner Bros’ most profitable titles ever in the country.

The two sailed high above three other local films that all opened Friday. Supernatural slapstick local comedy “Airpocalypse” came in third with $12.3 million, trailed by Chinese historical martial arts flick “Kung Fu Monster” with $7.53 million. “Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy” opened with $6.03 million in its opening weekend.

Hayao Miyazaki’s 30-year-old classic “My Neighbor Totoro” came in sixth, with a $3.17 million take that bumped its 10-day gross to $20 million. It was followed by Indian drama “Padman”, which earned $730,000 this weekend.

Despite the holiday season, Illumination’s animated film “The Grinch” still could not charm Chinese audiences, coming in eighth place with a cumulative box office total of just $3.52 million in 10 days.

“Spider-Verse” may have swung to victory this week, but its opening performance still fell far behind that of other top Hollywood animated titles in China. Last summer’s “Despicable Me 3” continues to lead the pack thanks to its $64 million opening, while 2016’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” brought in $53.3 million in its debut.

It was unusual for “Spider-Verse” to get a late December release date during what is usually a blackout period for foreign films during China’s prime moviegoing period. This year, however, authorities admitted a number of non-Chinese titles in what is likely a last-minute push to boost the country’s box office growth figures.

The Aamir Khan vehicle “Thugs of Hindostan” and the Netflix dog-centric family drama “Benji” are two more foreign films set for theatrical release before the end of the year, with both opening on Dec 28.

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