The market share of Japanesefilms released in 2006 currently stands at 47% and is fast closing in oncombined Hollywood and foreign releases, according to Japan's leading businessnewspaper, the Nikkei Shimbun.

In 2002, local filmsaccounted for an all-time low of 27.1% market share, but the past four yearshave seen year-on-year increases. In 2005, Japanese films grabbed more than 40%of the pie for the first time since 1997. With several big releases left in thecalendar year, domestic share may surpass 50% this year for the first timesince 1985.

Additionally, over 360domestic titles have been released this year, beating last year's 356 and ontrack to top 400, a number not reached since 1973.

This year has seen Japan's powerful TV network oligopoly fully utilise itsmedia clout to produce and market feature films offering spectacle on a scaleequal to Hollywood and stories that appeal to local audiences. Anelusive demographic until now, young people have also been flocking to cinemasto see local fare in higher numbers than ever before.

The year's top ten earnersare evenly split between Hollywoodand local hits. Japan's top grossers include Studio Ghibli's Tales From Earthsea at $65.4m (Y7.6bn), Fuji TV's Umizaru 2: Test Of Trust with $61m(Y7.1bn) and Suite Dreams with $52.5m(Y6.1bn). Six local films have surpassed $50m, easily beating any previousrecords.

Although Hollywood hits Pirates Of The Caribbean:Dead Man's Chest and The Da VinciCode hold the top two spots, many Hollywood releases,such as Cars and Superman Returns, have underperformed this year.

Still to be released in 2006is Shochiku's Love And Honor, thethird in Yoji Yamada's samurai trilogy and starring one of Japan's most famous singer-actors, Takuya Kimura. Inaddition, Toho will release Nana 2 onDecember 9 and the sequel looks set to outperform last year's $35m smash. FujiTV's period palace drama Oh-Oku, tobe released on December 23 by Toei, hopes to cash in big on the popular TVseries.

These films go head to headwith several medium-sized Hollywood titles. Sony Pictures Entertainment releases Casino Royale and animated Open Season on December 1 and December 9respectively. Warner Brothers releases Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima on December 9 and UIP-distributed Charlotte's Web opens December 23.

Despite the renaissance forJapanese films, there's still some doubt whether 2006's overall earnings willbeat last year's $1.7bn (Y198.1bn). Surveying 13 foreign and domesticdistribution companies, media industry newsletter Bunka Tsushin published a combined total earnings of $1.39bn(Y161.5bn) for January to October.