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Friday, March 18, 2011


Stars certain movie business will bounce back

Special to The Japan Times

Each new day since the March 11 earthquake seems to bring something worse, but the Japanese entertainment industry is no stranger to disaster and mayhem. There's a been-there-seen-it-all mindset, nurtured by a long history of alternating repression and liberation, plus natural disasters in between.

While most movie productions have been put on hold until further notice during the crisis, some films already slated for distribution will be aired as scheduled. An unnamed source at Shochiku says that the quake will probably enhance rather than damage sales.

"The Japanese are eager to support anything domestic at this point," he says. "Movies are a great way to connect people with each other, and the theaters are going to put up donation boxes to send to the Tohoku region. So we'll probably see more people coming to the movies than we've seen in the past 10 years."

One of the forces behind that momentum is Tohoku-born actor Kenichi Matsuyama, who hails from Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, and has three big films opening in spring and summer. One of Matsuyama's most appealing traits is a country-boy naivete that was nurtured in Mutsu, where he returns periodically to see family and friends. Mutsu wasn't hit by the quake as badly as the coastal regions, but Matsuyama's agency office, Hori Productions, has been inundated with concerned calls and e-mails from anxious fans.

Nationally treasured actress Kyoka Suzuki, who hails from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, blogged that she was finally able to get in touch with her mother last weekend. Suzuki is a classic Sendai girl who went to a local high school and graduated from the prestigious Tohoku Gakuin University in the heart of the city. She wrote that seeing the unbelievable damage wrought on her hometown (and one of Japan's most scenic areas) left her speechless. After watching news footage on television, many of us can only imagine how she must feel.

Ken Watanabe, perhaps one of Japan's best-known actors, has also sprung into action. On Tuesday, he and writer Kundo Koyama together launched a new website (www.kizuna 311.com) from which they are calling for the international community to send messages of support to the victims of the earthquake.

"I want to be a bridge between the victims and the people of the world until their smiles return," Watanabe says in a video message on the site. As of Friday, the site also included a message from actor Teruyuki Kagawa.

Meanwhile, a source at Yoshimoto Kogyo — one of Japan's biggest entertainment conglomerates whose specialty is discovering and training comedic talent — says that the industry is sure to bounce back faster than expected. On Tuesday, the company announced that the Okinawa International Movie Festival, which they will host on the island in Japan's south from March 18-27, will go ahead as planned. Yoshimoto Kogyo is based in Osaka, and when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck in 1995, Yoshimoto rallied immediately and set up Osaka's first FM radio network, so that local disaster victims would never again be left without information.

But our source's take on it is a little different: "I don't want to sound irreverent. But for the entertainment industry, disaster and tragedy often triggers good business. That's just a fact of life."

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