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Titanic Becomes a Historic Megahit in Japan

June 19, 1998

Titanic, which stole 11 Oscars at the 70th annual Academy Awards, has also taken Japan by storm. The movie has continued its theater run for nearly six months since its premier on December 20, 1997. On May 17, 1998, its box-office profits beat the record-holding domestic animation movie Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke), becoming the best-selling movie in Japanese history. Titanic has repeated this feat in 53 countries, but the Japanese seem to love the movie more than any other people in the world.

Promoters Sweat over a Triple Burden
As to why Titanic was such a remarkable success in Japan, a promotional worker for the film analyzes: "Although there hadn't been any major hits with epic romances during the two or three decades since Lawrence of Arabia, Japanese people love touching, tearful films. Those who have actually seen such epics in movie theaters are now in their middle ages and older. They are at the height of their careers and have often been too busy for movie outings, but Titanic has drawn them back to the theaters. This expansion of the movie-going population, from young people to full-time homemakers and working men as well, was a major factor contributing to the Titanic boom."

The movie involves a tragic incident that caused a large number of deaths, a theme that has already been depicted many times. Further, at an epic length of 3 hours and 14 minutes, the film is burdened with a triple handicap, being depressing, on a tired theme, and long. The promoters have gone through painstaking efforts to overcome these obstacles by presenting Titanic as the opening movie at the Tokyo International Film Festival ahead of its world premier, offering a "Titanic course" at a hotel restaurant, starring lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio in Japanese TV commercials, organizing a "Titanic exhibition" at department stores, and ensuring that the film gets plenty of attention on television and in print. Still, they managed to keep the promotion cost down to 960 million yen (6.9 million U.S. dollars at 140 yen to the dollar), an average expense for most movies.

In addition to these strategies, there was the extra trouble of having to translate all the original promotion material into Japanese, as well as adding subtitles to the film itself. The head promoter comments: "We were tight on time, since the film was being released simultaneously in Japan and the United States. Working under those conditions, having to rush the translations, was tough; it's miraculous that everything worked out fine."

Bored with Action Movies?
The top titles in the list of Western movies that recorded big hits in Japan--including E.T., Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park--are more or less identical to those in the United States. But more recently, the worldwide blockbusters Men in Black and Tomorrow Never Dies, both of which premiered in Japan in early 1998, did not take off as expected, whereas John Woo's Face/Off has fared quite well. This last movie included a number of touching scenes depicting familial love; this was apparently what captivated the hearts of Japanese audiences. These recent attendance trends may be a sign that many Japanese moviegoers are no longer satisfied with showy but predictable action movies.

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Trends in JapanEdited 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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