2009 Industry Statistics

This has been announced elsewhere, but the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren) released their statistics for the film industry for 2009. You can compare it to those from 2008.

The results are again great for Japanese film, and not so bad for cinema as a whole. Total box office went up 5.9% to 206 billion yen, with attendance climbing 5.5% to 169 million. Japanese films again beat foreign films at the box office 56.9% to 43.1%, their lead declining slightly but still winning in three out of the last four years. The box office for Japanese films rose 1.3% to 117 billion yen. The total number of films released slightly declined from 806 to 762, but the number for Japanese films slightly increased (from 418 to 448). The average ticket price increased by 3 yen to 1217 yen, while the number of screens continues to increase (to 3396 from 3359).

18 Japanese films earned more than 20 billion yen at the BO, more than the 15 from 2008, 2007 and 2006. Of the top 20 films, 16 were distributed by Toho, with RookiesPocket Monsters20th Century Boy Final, and Evangelion being the four to top 40 billion (all were distributed by Toho except for Evangelion). 

The increase in total attendance and BO was a relief after two consecutive years of decline, although they did not top the figures from 2004. It still seems that the film business is hovering at a plateau between 160 and 170 million admissions (which is the range for the figures for the last nine years), which is not very good news on the theater level. 2009 was worse than 2004, but there were over 550 fewer screens in 2004, which meant more money per screen back then. The yearly rise in screens seems to be decreasing, indicating that the decline in per-theater revenue is beginning to hit home (and there is increasing news of theaters closing, and not just small art houses, but also some multiplexes). 

We can gloat that Japanese films are clobbering Western films, but the decline in the take for foreign films has really hit small and mid-level distributors badly (a number of which went bankrupt in 2009), which means that fewer American and European independent or art films are showing in Japan, something that is not good for the film culture as a whole. 

The fact that Toho retains its almost monopolistic dominance continues to be a sign of concern. The trend among Japanese films seems to be that if you can find a theater for your film - which is increasingly hard with the backlog of films and the declining number of minitheaters - it has to be an immediate hit or the theater will quickly pull it and throw in a TV-produced and advertised film. There are fewer long runs and sleeper hits. Eiren also noted that sales for DVDs and videos went down about 10%. One again wonders if businesses other than Toho are really making that much money.

Update: In an immediate sign of how unhealthy this has all been for medium size companies, the news services are reporting that Lee Bong-ou's Cine Quanon, the producer of such hits as Patchigi and Hula Girls, is filing for corporate restructuring after accumulating a debt of over 4.7 billion yen. Lee was long celebrated as an example of mid-size independents succeeding apart from the majors like Toho. But apparently it was not a success. 

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