For the first time in 21 years...

Aaron Gerow aaron.gerow at
Thu Feb 1 09:01:00 EST 2007

As was reported, Japanese films topped foreign films for the first time 
in 21 years. Here are some of the specifics, based on the statistics 
released by Eiren (, reporting by the Asahi, and my own 

Attendance increased 2.4% to 164 million while the box office increased 
2.2% to a total of 202.5 billion yen. Japanese films took up 107.7 
billion of that, or 53.2%. In comparison, the box office for foreign 
films plummeted by 18.5% compared to 2005. The total number of films 
released was 821, an increase from 731 in 2005. Japanese films totaled 
417 of that, which according to the Asahi, is the highest total in 33 
years. The number of screens increased to 3062 from 2926.

There were no Japanese megahits last year, but 6 films grossed over 5 
billion yen, and 28 topped 1 billion. According to the Asahi, both are 

A close look at the numbers, however, shows that not everything is 
rosy. First, the total box office was still less than that it was in 
2003 and 2004, so the market is not exhibiting any expansion trend even 
though the number of films and screens is increasing (some are charging 
that we are now seeing overproduction of films). A film on average in 
2003 made 327 million yen, but in 2006 it was down to 247 million. 
Japanese films were a bit better off: a Japanese film made on average 
234 million in 2003 and 258 million in 2006 (but only after declining 
to 230 million in 2005). Yet one could argue, with the hit films being 
concentrated in a few studios, that there is a class system developing 
in Japanese cinema where the rich films are getting richer and the poor 
films are getting poorer. (This ironically might resemble Japanese 
society today, where the economy is getting better, but the average 
person is seeing few of the benefits as class differences are becoming 
more pronounced.) The Asahi noted that Toho posted a record for its box 
office results, topping 58.7 billion yen. Toho thus captured about 55% 
of the hoga market (and 29% of the total). It had 8 of the top ten 
Japanese BO films, and 15 of the 27 films it released topped 1 billion. 
Toho's share of the Japanese film market went down a bit from last 
year, but its share of the total actually rose (from 27%), so its 
dominance is still overwhelming.

Theaters were also not necessarily doing well, as the average BO per 
screen has also gone down (though one could argue that multiplexes, 
which now account for 73% of all screens, are better able to handle 
that than single screen theaters, although within limits).

One other significant development is the appearance of Warner Brothers 
on the chart of Japanese film distributors, sporting major hits with 
the two Death Note films and Brave Heart. Can Hollywood be making up 
for its losses in the Japanese market by invading the market for 
Japanese films? We shall see. It may mean that the share for the 
average Japanese company will only get smaller.

Aaron Gerow
KineJapan owner

Assistant Professor
Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University

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