In a rare box office coup, Asian films occupy three of the top five spots in the Japanese chart this week.
The South Korean spy actioner Shuri (also known as Shiri and Swiri) debuted at number one with a huge screen average of $65,069 from a seven-day gross of $1,041,107 (from Japan's key nine cities only). Distributors Cine Quanon and Amuse plan to roll it out from its current 36 screens to nearly 100 later this month. 'We're taking it to provincial towns that have never seen a Korean movie before,' said Cine Quanon publicist Akiko Munakata.
The fast-paced actioner about a beautiful-but-deadly North Korean spy who falls in love with her South Korean counterpart 'is changing the image of Korean films, which was rather gloomy and dark,' said Munakata. To ensure that new image sticks, the distributors hired hot young Japanese director Hiroyuki Nakano (Samurai Fiction) to make a hyper-charged trailer that equals anything Hollywood has to offer. 'It's had a lot of buzz and is definitely bringing people into the theatre,' said Munakata.
Shuri knocked last week's champ, End Of Days, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, into second place with a weekly gross of $856,759 which scored a little over the double bill of Japanese horrors, Ring 0 and Isola, distributed by Toho. The top half of the bill, Ring 0, is the third and final instalment in a trilogy featuring a vengeful female spirit who inhabits a video tape - and kills anyone who watches it. 'The film is something like Star Wars: Episode One,' said Toho publicist Yusuke Tomoda. 'It explains what happened before the first film begins and completes the series.' Expectations of attracting the film's teenage target audience are high: Toho expects Ring 0 to earn as much as $14.2m in distributor revenues, compared with $9.4 million for Ring and $19.8m for Ring 2.
The number four, and in some ways most surprising hit on the list is When The Rain Lifts produced by Asmik Ace. Based on the last script by Akira Kurosawa, this low-key period drama that depicts the love between a skilled but impulsive samurai and his ever patient wife, is attracting an impressive slice of the older cinema-going audience.
'It's got the kind of emotion that is missing in a lot films now,' said Asmik Ace publicist Karen Uchida. 'Also period dramas are popular - but they've pretty much disappeared from television, so there's a demand still there which movies have been filling.' Another reason for the film's success, Uchida said, is the curiosity factor: 'The director, Takashi Koizumi, was Kurosawa's assistant for nearly thirty years - people wanted to see how he would direct his master's script.' They evidently liked with they saw. 'Japanese usually don't show much emotion at the movies,' said Uchida, 'but at every pre-release screening of When The Rain Lifts, the audience applauded. That's when we started to think we might have a hit.'