In the first weekend since its Oscar win for best foreign-language film, Departures rose to number one at the Japanese box office, after re-entering the top 10 during the previous week in eighth place.

Distributor Shochiku expanded the film's extended run from 95 screens to a large-scale 189-screen re-release following the Oscar ceremony, and Departures grossed $3.3m (Yen320.5m) from 299,495 admissions on 189 screens in its 25th week of release. The film's total earnings have now passed $42.3m (Yen4.2bn).

Boosting demand was Sunday's 'movie service day', which offers tickets for Yen1,000 - just over $10 - on the first of every month. The combination of factors saw week-on-week admissions increase five-fold. The only other new entry in Japan's chart for the February 28-March 1 weekend was Twentieth Century Fox's Australia, which opened in fifth place.

After the Oscar news hit Japan on Monday afternoon, Shochiku's flagship cinema, the Marunouchi Piccadilly in Tokyo, saw queues around the block on early Tuesday morning - unprecedented for a non-holiday weekday.

Starting off in the 540-seat Piccadilly 3, the film moved into the 800-seat Piccadilly 1 at the weekend with English-subtitled screenings in the schedule, also a rarity for regular local screenings. Shochiku cited a shortage of prints to deal with local demand.

An aged cinema in Morioka City that had closed down in January re-opened especially to show Departures - to a packed house. The film's popularity and subject matter has lured a significant portion of the senior demographic to local cinemas for the first time since 2005's Yamato.

Late bloomer

Departures only ranked as high as fourth place on its initial release last September. No other film has ever reached the number one position so late in its theatrical run.

Released on September 13 on 220 screens, Departures earned $31.2m (Yen3.05bn) in its original release and was Shochiku's biggest hit last year.

The media blitz also led to a 15% surge in Shochiku's stock price from the week before. Amuse Soft Entertainment has had to double the pressing of its March 18 DVD release to 200,000 units. Departures also entered the top 10 in Taiwan on February 27, with Singapore and Hong Kong openings scheduled for this month.

Departures is the story of a man who loses his job and returns to his rural hometown. He starts work as an 'encoffiner' - someone who ritually washes and clothes the dead before funerals. Despite his wife's unease, he begins to enjoy his new career, which allows him to come to terms with his father's death.

Lead actor Masahiro Motoki learned about his character's trade from Shinmon Aoki's 1996 book Coffinman: The Journal Of A Buddhist Mortician (Noukanfu Nikki). Motoki then brought the project to Sedic International CEO Toshiaki Nakazawa, after which TBS producer Yasuhiro Mase came on board. Yojiro Takita was hired to direct in 2006.

The Departures effect

Publisher Bungeishunju announced a extra run of 150,000 copies of Aoki's book after bookshops sold out. Sales of a new hearse modelled on the car featured in the film have also reportedly been brisk.

The film has won more than 60 international and local awards, including major prizes in Montreal, China, Hawaii, Palm Springs and a sweep of the Japan Academy Prize awards last weekend.

Departures director Yojiro Takita recently completed his next film, Sanpei The Fisher Boy, an adaptation of Takao Yaguchi's classic manga which has sold more than 40 million copies. Toei will open Sanpei in Japan on March 19.

US distributor Regent Releasing, which picked up North American rights to Departures before the film's Oscar nomination, will open the film in selected cities this May. ContentFilm is handling international sales.