‘Frozen’ fires up box office in Japan
With chilly temperatures still prevailing across most of Japan, Walt Disney Pictures’ animated feature Frozen has proven to be a veritable audience-puller since its opening on March 14, 2014. The movie, released in both 2D and 3D versions on a total of 598 screens nationwide, scored the largest weekend opening this year so far at the Japan box office, earning 763 million yen ($7.5 mil.) from some 602,000 admissions. These figures also mark the biggest weekend opening for any Disney film in Japan to date, effectively dethroning previous record holder Wreck-It Ralph (2012), which in early 2013 grossed 343 million yen during its first weekend. Outshining other animated movies currently on release in the traditionally anime-addicted country, Frozen succeeded in increasing its second-weekend gross by almost 15%, generating another 872 million yen ($8.5 mil) from 681,000 admissions. During its first nine days since release, it has raked in roughly 3.05 billion yen, with ticket sales reportedly still going strong.
Japan Blocks My Little Princess
While Frozen embarked on a triumphant march across Japan, the country’s film censorship body, Eirin, unceremoniously slammed the door in the face of French drama My Little Princess (2011) by labeling it as “inapplicable for classification.” Eirin did not announce a specific reason for refusing a rating certificate, but it appears that the agency objected to the movie’s protagonist (French actress Isabelle Huppert) letting her underage daughter pose for rather provocative photos.
Although the lack of an Eirin certificate does not outright ban a film from being screened in Japan altogether, the code of the National Association of Theatre Owners of Japan, to which the vast majority of local chains and standalones belong, stipulates that no member cinema may exhibit a movie without proper rating. Despite this quasi-ban, independent film distributor Unplugged Inc. has announced in the meantime that it intended to screen the movie at Tokyo’s Image Forum starting May 10. The company reportedly also has booked another seven cinemas across the country, including the Jack and Betty Cinema in the port city of Yokohama, which will screen My Little Princess on June 14. The film was already released in Taiwan and South Korea in 2011 and received an adults-only rating in both countries.
Eirin introduced its movie rating system in 1998, classifying all films into one of four theatrical release categories: G (for general audiences), PG12 (restricted to audiences from age 12, with parental guidance requested), R15+ (restricted to audiences aged 15 and over), and R18+ (restricted to audiences aged 18 and over).
Alibaba Opens Film Business Sesame
China’s privately owned e-commerce company Alibaba Group announced two projects with which it intends to spread its wings in the film industry. In early March 2014, Alibaba acquired a 60% stake in Hong Kong-based ChinaVision Media Group Ltd. for a reported HK$6.24 billion ($805 mil.). Less than three weeks later, on March 25, ChinaVision signed an agreement through its subsidiary Huge Grand with Mainland China’s Star Ritz Productions Co., Ltd. to produce five movies that will be either written or directed by well-known Taiwanese author Giddens. However, no specific details have been made public about these films so far.
Parallel to the movie deal, Alibaba also announced the launch of its investment scheme Entertainment Bao, a crowd-sourcing project that will give everyday people the opportunity to become real-life film investors. According to Alibaba, investments start as low as 100 RMB ($16), with the ceiling set at 1,000 RMB per investment. Interested parties, who are restricted to a maximum of two film projects they choose from a provided list, can pledge their investment amounts via the Alibaba-developed “Taobao” smartphone app. Four film projects are reportedly available during the initial phase, with sales having formally kicked off on March 31. Alibaba determined the total required investment amount for the four movies at 73 million RMB ($11.7 mil.).
In exchange for their money, investors are promised exclusive perks such as autographed photos of starring actors and actresses, complimentary tickets to premiere screenings, and set visits, while investors apparently also can vote who they want to star in “their” movies. With the investment period capped at one year, Alibaba projects a return on investment of 7%, although the group cautiously warns that this percentage is by no means guaranteed.
But what at first glance seems like an affordable investment plan that sounds too good to be true might eventually turn out to be exactly that. Netizens on China’s most popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo, have already harshly criticized the motives behind Entertainment Bao, saying it might rather constitute an insurance sales scam than a genuine film-investment opportunity. Entertainment Bao apparently is associated with Guohua Life Insurance Co., Ltd., and critics have expressed concerns the supposed film investment could merely serve as a vehicle to push life and other insurance policies on investors that they neither need nor want in the first place. However, Entertainment Bao almost immediately rejected the criticism on the same microblogging site by saying the film-investment scheme was guaranteed to be legal, adhered to China’s relevant financial regulations, and that all invested amounts would be used to “fund the cultural industry,” although it failed to detail exactly how.
Apart from film projects, Entertainment Bao also invites investments for videogame developments.
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