Fri Jan 12 10:09:13 EST 2001
Greg asked about actors' salaries That's a tough one because the figures
never get published -- only the annual geinokai taxpayers' banzuke and the
occasional survey of CM talento fees. One reason may be that revealing the
fees would be an embarrassment for all concerned, given how tiny they are.
Why tiny? Wouldn't you think that, given the size of the Japanese market --
half that of the US -- that the fees would be about half those of Hollywood?
Well, first, Japanese films do little or no business in the foreign market,
which accounts for about half of Hollywood's box office. Second, Japanese go
to the movies an average of once a year, compared with five or six times for
Americans. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there are hardly any stars
worthy of the name here. No one in the Japanese film business is worth Jim
Carrey's $20 million fee because no one here, with the exception of Takakura
Ken and a couple others, can open a film the way Jim Carrey can.
I had a conversation with Toei about Takakura's Poppoya (Railroad Man),
their big hit of 1999. The production budget was Y850 million including
P&A -- quite large for a Japanese film. They told me they only made it
because Takakura, after ten months of negotiations over the script, came on
board. That means they considered Takakura bankable -- i.e., that they could
finance the film on the basis of his name alone, which proved to be correct.
After he signed on, they were able to line up their investors within one
Let's assume his talent fee was one-fifth of the budget -- Y170 million --
a high figure, but in Takakura's case worth every yen -- the film ended up
grossing more than Y3.5 billion. That would still, at $1.5 million, be less
than 10 percent of Mr. Carrey's fee -- and Takakura is the only one in the
industry who could command it. Asano would probably be lucky to make a tenth
In the indie film world, where Asano does most of his work, the budgets are
one-tenth that for Poppoya, or quite often less. The talent fees are scaled
down accordingly. On the other hand, a top CM talento can earn Y100 million
or more annually from one company. Who can blame Asano, Yakusho or indeed
anyone for making idiots of themselves on the tube, when they can earn more
on a two or three day CM shoot than they can for an entire film?
There's also a side benefit -- they can often become better known among the
general audience for one TV spot they could by appearing in a dozen movies.
Takakura stayed bankable in the nineties not by starring in box office
disappointments like "47 Ronin," but by playing around with computers on TV.
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