Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Japan goes to the Oscars with foreign directors

In 2006 Japanese cinema dominated again in the box office, after 21 years
Japan will be represented this year in the Academy Awards ceremony in two non Japanese films, Iwo Jima kara no tegami (Letters from Iwo Jima), by the American director Clint Eastwood, nominated in the best film category, and Babel, by the Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu, who aspires to seven prizes in six categories, among them also best film.
Eastwood­'s movie is spoken mainly in Japanese, turned on Japanese locations and with a Japanese casting headed by Ken Watanabe. On the other hand, in Babel one of the four stories narrates the vicissitudes of a Japanese deaf girl, a role that has earned actress Rinko Kikuchi a nomination as best supporting actress.
González Iñárritu's film will be released in Japan in spring, but it has already caught the attention of the mass media and has turned the little known Kikuchi into a celebrity. If she gets the Oscar, she would be the second Japanese to do so, exactly 50 years after Mioko Umeki did it, in the same category, for his interpretation in Sayonara, another foreign film set in Japan.
Eastwood's success
Iwo Jima kara no tegami has fully fulfilled expectations in Japan, with 9 weeks in the top 10, 5 of them as number one. The critics and the public have praised the work for it's artistic qualities as well as for Eastwood's ability in presenting in an impartial way the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest episodes of World War II, in which 22,000 Japanese and 6,800 Americans died.
In spite of the good critics, some commentaries point to the difficulty for the drama of Iwo Jima to beat Babel. "It is a film that can win, but Eastwood already won 2 years ago with Million Dollar Baby, so it feels like it is too soon. It is a film in Japanese. Until now none has been nominated in the category of best film. It is the first time, so it seems difficult for it to win", explained the prestigious critic Yuichi Maeda, for whom the favorite candidate is Babel, although the best film is Little Miss Sunshine.

The double foreign presence of Japan in the Oscars takes place after the announcement that in 2006 the Japanese films beat their foreign competitors in the box office, for the first time in the last 21 years. According to the Motion Pictures Producers Association of Japan, national films collected about 107 billion yen last year, 13 more than did the foreign films. The global success of the local industry is due, among other reasons, to the improvement of the promotion by the increase of productions associated with television channels and to the concurrence of 6 films with income of more than 5 billion yen and 28 films of more than 1 billion. The number one Japanese movie by income was the animated Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea), with more than 7 billion yen, followed very closely by Limit of Love, Umizaru, an action film about the Japanese coastguard. In spite of the success of the Japanese cinema, the three top earner films of 2006 were Harry Potter (10 billion yen), Pirates of the Caribbean (10 billion yen), and the The Da Vinci Code (almost 9 billion).


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