South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced the complete opening of the Korean market to Japanese live-action films, effective from January 1, 2004.

This marks the last stage of the incremental dismantling of a ban on Japanese popular culture, that was enacted shortly after Korean independence in retaliation for Japan's colonial rule over Korea from 1910-1945.

Currently, Japanese films given an 18+ rating (restricted to viewers 18 and above) by the Korea Media Ratings Board are prohibited from screening in South Korea, unless the film has received an award at one of 70 selected international film festivals. Animated films are also restricted from screening theatrically unless they have been similarly awarded.

The complete market opening will apply to the popular music and game industries as well. However, the Ministry announced it will hold discussions with interested parties in the broadcasting and animation sectors before deciding whether to include these industries as well. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

A spokesman for the Ministry commented, "Given the worldwide strength of Japanese animation, and the weakness of the local animation industry, we will hold consultations with businesses that would be affected by the opening before coming to a decision."

The opening of the Korean market to Japanese films began in 1998, when films awarded top prizes at Cannes, Venice or Berlin were granted permission for theatrical and video releases.

Takeshi Kitano's Hana-bi became the first Japanese film to receive a commercial release, drawing a disappointing 37,771 admissions in Seoul.

Two more stages of market opening followed in 1999 and 2000, however further liberalization was postponed in 2001 following a diplomatic row over Japanese school textbooks that many Koreans argued were a distortion of history.