US Distribution of Love Letter

stephen cremin asianfilmlibrary at
Fri Jan 1 22:27:50 EST 1999

In response to John Dougill's posting, I just want to stress that 
Japanese film isn't so healthy in the UK, although its performing 
better than other Asian national cinemas.  There were six new Asian 
films distributed in the UK during 1998 (in addition to very limited 
re-released for two Mizoguchi films, essentially to gain more press 
coverage for a retrospective), of which four were Japanese: "Shall we 
Dance?", "The Eel" (Unagi), "HANA-BI" and "April Story" (Shigatsu 
Monogatari).  They almost certainly all made a profit while the 
Taiwanese and Hong Kong film releases made a loss

It was an interesting year for Japanese film in the UK because it was 
the first time that Japanese-language films received full-page 
advertising campaigns, with a particularly strong push on "Shall we 
Dance?".  The greatest success for Asian film in recent years was 
"Farewell My Concubine" which took five times as much money as either 
"HANA-BI" or "Shall we Dance?", so I'm not sure Japanese film will 
ever reach the prominence that 5th Generation Chinese film did in the 
first half of the decade.  (Note that the most recent work of Zhang 
Yimou and Chen Kaige is not getting released in the UK now.  A few 
years ago UK distributors were bidding for these films at script 
stage.)  I'm not sure to what extent the "Gong Li" factor was 

But I think its important to note that "HANA-BI" and "Shall we Dance?" 
were very special films in that one one the Venice Gold Lion and the 
other was a box-office hit in America.  Asian film is out of fashion 
again as far as prizes go at Berlin, Cannes and Venice, so I'm not 
sure what will happen next year.  But it does look like "Bounce-ko 
Girls" will get UK distribution now.  I just hope that can in some way 
gain some benefit from "Shall we Dance?" and help change the direction 
of Asian film releases in a less "masculine" direction.  With the 
exception of "HANA-BI", that kind of cinema has failed to establish 
itself beyond the festival circuit.  But I do think that films such as 
"Bounce" and "Shall we Dance?" can broaden the interest in Japanese 
film in a way that Kitano Takeshi never could.

And regards "Titanic".  I think there has been much talk in the 
industry about the "New Romanticism" movement, whatever that means.  
The great shame about the release of "Love Letter" in the States is 
that it wasn't pushed as a great romantic film to ride that wave.  In 
my naivety I was expecting very broad press advertising which just 
never happened.  With a new director you have to advertise heavily 
because its impossible to grow a film slowly on word-of-mouth anymore.  
I think the bigger worry now is what happens in Finland and France 
where the first Iwai release will be "Swallowtail Butterfly": will 
that create a particular image for Iwai that will narrow his potential 
in these markets.  I don't know.

And regarding Japanese teenagers comments on the problems with their 
own cinema.  Well, Japanese cinema can't compete on the same scale as 
Hollywood.  There are a few directors planning English-language films 
and perhaps they can be more ambitious in terms of budget.  The TV 
adapations they mention of course largely refers to the police comedy 
"Odoru Daisosasen" which I think is exactly the kind of the film the 
Japanese film world needs: not big on explosions, but great 
entertainment and very cinematic.  I haven't seen the latest figures, 
but it was at number one for five weeks taking in US$1,000,000 per 
week on just ten screens before "Armageddon" knocked it off its spot.

Stephen Cremin
The Asian Fi

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