Here’s the latest in our series of reports touching on the people, projects and polemics buzzing around the globe. This week’s report follows articles on France, India and Italy. The series will be taking a break for the next few weeks and return in August.
Japan lost its standing as the world’s No. 2 movie market when it was outpaced by China in 2012. At No. 3, it still enjoyed a slight increase in box office with $2.4B compared with 2011′s $2.3B. While China’s local market share dropped in 2012 (to rebound strongly thus far in 2013), Japanese films consistently have been dominant at home since 2008 and hit a 47-year high of 65.7% in 2012, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan. Tastes have changed, say watchers, as Japanese moviegoers seek lighter fare and films that better represent themselves. “Japan is very insular,” a distribution exec says. “They have a hard time exporting and importing films.” The studios are not necessarily suffering on a local level, however. Warner Bros and Fox have had success in Japan recently, working with films based on well-known manga series and TV animations. Added to that, Fox just shot part of The Wolverine locally and Warner Bros in September will release a Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
Japan is a complex place to do business. For one, the lack of a mechanism designed for foreign shoots can make filming a challenge. The Wolverine did it, and it’s expected that could help at the box office since it’s a film that represents the Japanese and their culture. But reception in Japan won’t be clear until September 13 when the movie opens there after rolling out most everywhere else in late July and early August. Japan has little trouble with piracy, so day-and-date releases are not the rule.
Also opening on September 13 is Warner Bros’ remake of Unforgiven. Directed by Sang-il Lee, the movie stars Ken Watanabe. (One of a handful of Japanese actors who works in Hollywood and at home, he’ll also star in Martin Scorsese’s Japanese-themed passion project Silence, which starts shooting next year in Taiwan.) The Unforgiven remake was developed for over a year with Lee writing the script. The arc of the story is akin to the original, but samurai are replacing cowboys. It’s set in late 19th century Japan and has Akira Emoto in the Morgan Freeman role. The wisdom of remaking an Oscar-winning Clint Eastwood film could be questioned, but a non-Warner exec opines that “most people won’t know it’s a remake.” The most recent U.S.-to-Japan studio remake was 2010’s Ghost transfer, Ghost: In Your Arms Again, which grossed about $10M locally. (In 2010, there was also indie Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night, a sort of companion sequel to Oren Peli’s original micro-budget hit.)