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Films Adapted from Comics Spearhead a Boom in Japanese Cinema (July 26, 2006)

A poster for the movie Death Note
The Japanese film industry was once thought to be in decline, overshadowed as it was by blockbusters from Hollywood. But over the past few years Japanese movies have won new popularity, and both box office sales and the number of releases are now on the rise. Live-action movies adapted from manga comics are a major force shaping this trend.

An Accent on Casting and Makeup
Japan is the land of comic books, and manga are a treasure trove of stories. Until recently, however, most manga-based movies were animated, and live-action productions tended to be low-budget affairs that got poor reviews.

The manga version of Death Note
(c) Tsugumi Oba • Takeshi Obata / SHUEISHA Inc.

Today, however, a new generation of directors brought up on manga is active in the movie industry, and computer graphics technologies have made substantial advances. Film makers can, for example, depict futuristic scenes from manga powerfully and realistically. And they can also produce works that are faithful to the original and do not disappoint manga fans, something they achieve by taking special care with the casting of the actors and makeup techniques.

Manga offer a number of advantages as the basis for a film. First, the titles of manga tend to convey the worldview and overall image of the work, so the gist of the story can be conveyed readily to potential readers without large-scale advertisements. The same holds true for movies adapted from manga. In addition, movies based on popular manga are guaranteed to attract fans of the original works.

Among the noteworthy films in this genre are Azumi, released in 2003, and Cutie Honey and Umizaru (Sea Monkey, the nickname for the Japan Coast Guard’s professional divers) released in 2004. In 2005, Nana and Always Sanchome no yuhi (Always: The Sunset at Sanchome) moved up the charts to become top-ranking Japanese box office hits.

A scene from the Death Note manga
(c) Tsugumi Oba • Takeshi Obata / SHUEISHA Inc.

Debut of Sequels
This year the list of manga-inspired films is even longer, with Saishu heiki kanojo (The Last Love Song on This Little Planet), Umizaru: Limit of Love, Rabu*kon (Lovely Complex), and Hachimitsu to Kuroba (Honey and Clover) among them. The manga from which they were adapted include both old and new titles and run the gamut from science fiction to love stories, thrillers, and comedies.

One of this year's hot new films is Death Note, which began showing in June 2006. The original manga was carried in the weekly manga magazine Shukan Shonen Jump through May 2006 and was also published separately as a set of paperbacks, which had sold more than 20 million copies as of July 2006.

Death Note is a mystery whose unique plot revolves around a notebook with the power to cause the death of any person whose name is written in it. The movie was made in two parts, unusually for a Japanese project, with the aim of remaining true to the spirit of the original work. The second part is scheduled to open in theaters in November. There are plans to release the film in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and a number of other countries and regions in Asia, and the possibility of a US and European release is also being discussed.

Making comic-based live-action movies was once the exclusive domain of Hollywood, while Japanese filmmakers commonly focused on making animated versions of manga. Now that manga have an international readership, live-action Japanese movies adapted from these comics are likely to gain a following in the rest of the world.


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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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