The Japanese box office was worth $2.05bn (Y211bn) in2004, an increase of 3.8% over 2003, according to figures released today by TheJapan Motion Picture Producers Association (Eiren). Admissions stood at 170 million.

In comparison, the US box office reached $9.4bn in 2004 on ticket sales of 1.51 billion; the UK saw box office returns of $1.24bn on ticket sales of 171 million for the year, while Germany registered $1.15bn from 151 million admissions. Meanwhile, France enjoyed its best year for the past twenty, with $1.5bn from 196 million admissions

The box office surge was led by Howl's Moving Castlewhich was the biggest film in Japan in 2004.

The Hayao Miyazaki animation earned $194m (Y20bn) for theyear following its release on November 20. It is expected to approach the $296mall-time record achieved by Miyazaki's previous film, Spirited Away.

The top grosser among foreign releases for the year was TheLast Samurai, with $133m, followed by Harry Potter And The Prisoner ofAzkaban ($131m), Finding Nemo ($106.8m) and Lord of the Rings:Return of the King ($100.2m). Meanwhile, the second highest grossingJapanese film was the romantic drama Crying Out Love In the Centre of theWorld, with $82.5m followed by Be With You ($46.6m) and PocketMonsters Advanced Generation ($42.5m).

A total of 29 foreign films grossed Y1bn ($9.7m) or morefor the year, while the similar figure for local films was 20.

Japanese films accounted for $767.5m of the box officetotal, for a 37.5% share; foreign films for $1.28bn, for a 62.5% share. Theprevious year the respective share figures were 33% and 67%, giving Japanesefilms a 4.5 percentage point gain in 2004.

The number of Japanese films released also rose, from 287in 2003 to 310 in 2004, while foreign releases gained slightly in the sameperiod, from 335 to 339. The total number of screens grew from to 2,825 in2004, from 2,681 the previous year.

Retail sales of theatrical film DVDs and videos amountedto $4.793bn for the year, while the number of video shop rentals totalled755,300,000.