Figures released by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (‘Eiren’) indicate that box office takings for Japanese films have exceeded those for foreign films for the first time since 1985.

The flailing film industry has been a constant concern for producers and industry stakeholders as they faced both a declining popularity in films, and a decreasing share of box office takings due to the popularity of Hollywood movies from the US.

Speaking to MPPA in 1998, they expressed considerable distress about the miserable outlook for Japanese films, but held onto animated feature films such as Studio Ghibli’s Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke) as a potential saviour for the industry both at home and abroad.

Looking at the breakdown of the figures, 2006 saw a dramatic increase in the number of Japanese films (or ‘hoga‘) from 2005. The positive sign for the local industry is that average revenue per film also increased to 258 million yen (according to my calculations), which is also above the average earning for foreign films by about 24 million yen.

While the top 3 Hollywood films (Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Da Vinci Code) outsold top local films such as ゲド戦記, LIMIT OF LOVE 海猿, and THE 有頂天ホテル, a large number of high-performing Japanese films helped push them to scrape just over 53 percent of boxoffice takings.

Notably, 8 of the top 10 Japanese films were produced by Toho – an indicator of their dominant position in the local market – figures for 2004 and 2005 tell a similar story.

While the competitiveness of Japan’s animation sector has seen considerable emphasis placed on the importance of exports, it is interesting to see that feature films – at least for 2006 – have proved more successful at home than have imported ‘blockbusters’.