The Japanese box office totalled $2.15bn (195bn yen) in 2012, topping the previous year’s figures by 7.7% but remaining below 2010’s 220.7bn yen.

The Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren) has reported overall Japanese box office revenues for 2012 totaling $2.15b (Y195.2b). The figure represents a 7.7% increase over 2011’s weak showing of $1.99b, but still down considerably from 2010’s record-breaking $2.43b.

The total was earned from 155.16 million admissions, a 7.2% increase over last year’s 144.73 million. Overall, Japan’s box office has remained relatively flat with admissions both this year and last failing to exceed 160 million as they had since 2001. Despite the mediocre results, 2012 signalled a return to normal moviegoing habits after 2011’s natural disaster and dearth of hits.

In contrast, China’s exploding year-on-year increase in admissions generated $2.74b in 2012, seeing Japan drop to the world’s third largest film market economically.

Homegrown success

However, unlike China, where Hollywood and foreign titles outgrossed local releases, Japan’s market share for imports fell drastically to 34.3%, representing $736.85m of 2012’s take. Market share flipped in favour of local titles in 2006 after 21 years of preference for imports, with 2012’s share marking the lowest since 1965. 

With no homegrown megahits in 2011, last year saw four local titles exceed Y5b, led by Brave Hearts: Umizaru as the year’s overall top-grossing film at $80.6m, Thermae Romae, Bayside Shakedown The Final and Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.

Typical for the territory, animation contributed greatly to revenues, topped by the aforementioned Evangelion, Mamoru Hosoda’s internationally renowned Wolf Children and new instalments in the annual Doraemon, Pokemon and Detective Conan franchises.

Other live action hits included the third film in the Always series, Rurouni Kenshin and The Floating Castle. Toho continued to dominate distribution, releasing 16 of the top 20 films.

Hollywood hits

The most successful Hollywood release was Paramount’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ($59.16m) as the only import to crack $50m. Resident Evil: Retribution, Avengers, Men In Black 3 and Dark Shadows were among top earners.

Conversely, 2011 was boosted by several megahits with Harry Potter and Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels both exceeding $100m.

Toho studios president Yoshishige Shimatani commented on the widening gap in market share. “The production quality of Japanese films continues to increase. There’s also more synchronization between local film producers and audience demand,” he said.

Screen count dip

In exhibition, screen count dropped once again, down to 3,290 from 3,339 in 2011. Ongoing effects from the March 11 disaster, economic difficulties in regional areas, and independent art cinemas grappling with shrinking DVD and theatrical revenues have quickened closures. Warner announced the sale of its 50% share in Warner-Mycal exhibition holdings to Aeon Group in December.

Exhibitors are increasingly depending on revenues of sports, music and other ODS contents. ODS contributed $30m to 2012 totals, with an additional $23m for live event streaming. ODS releases (excepting live showings) accounted for 75 of 554 local titles and 23 of 429 imports. In tandem, digital conversion has continued steadily now standing at 88% of Japan’s screens.

Export low

Despite the reasonable strength of domestic contents, earnings from the export of movies and related rights held by Eiren member companies hit their lowest point since 2000 at $53m.

Studio chiefs cited the high yen as the main cause. Continued difficulty of selling live-action films to North America and Europe as well as import restrictions on Japanese films in China are exacerbating the situation.

Shimatani predicted a stronger focus on the Southeast Asian market while Shochiku president Junichi Sakomoto mentioned more emphasis on remakes and international co-productions.

Top Grossing Films of 2012

Top Grossing Films (Combined)

1. Brave Hearts: UmizaruToho$80.6m (Y7.33b)
2. Thermae RomaeToho$65.8m (Y5.98b)
3. Bayside Shakedown The FinalToho$65.7m (Y5.97b)
4. Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolParamount$59.2m (Y5.38b)
5. Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) RedoT-Joy/Khara$58.3m (Y5.3b)
6. Wolf ChildrenToho$46.4m (Y4.22b)
7. Resident Evil: RetributionSony$41.9m (Y3.81b)
8. DoraemonToho$39.8m (Y3.62b)
9. PokemonToho$39.7m (Y3.61b)
9. The AvengersDisney$39.7m (Y3.61b)
10. Always: Sunset On Third Street 3Toho$37.8m (Y3.44b)