Boosted by its warm reception at the Venice Film Festival, Takeshi Kitano's samurai swashbuckler Zatoichi soared to $4.3m (¥500m) on its opening weekend in Japan - the strongest local start for any of Kitano's 11 films.

Awarded the Open 2003 Mimmo Rotella Foundation prize midway through the festival, Kitano found his face in all the local papers just as Zatoichi opened on September 6 in the Shochiku chain, on a total of 221 screens. The result was standing-room-only crowds - with 370,000 admissions the first two days.

Shochiku, which had originally set $13m (¥1.5bn) as its target gross, is now shooting for $25.9m, which seems even more achieveable since Kitano's bagging of the Venice Silver Lion for Best Director.

Kitano's previous best showing at the local box office was for his 2000 gang thriller Brother, with $7.76m (¥900m). His film previous to Zatoichi, last year's romantic drama Dolls, finished with $6.03m (¥700m)