In Japan, 3D films get kicked by new samurai flicks

Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:33pm EDT
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By Chris Gallagher

TOKYO (Reuters) - Hollywood 3D movies may be huge in Japan, but a wave of new samurai films threatens to tarnish their image by dazzling audiences with old-school action and some clever new twists to the sword-and-kimono stories.

From the works of filmmaking legend Akira Kurosawa, such as "Seven Samurai," to dramas aired on public broadcaster NHK, samurai fare has long been a staple of Japanese entertainment.

But several films in the genre are hitting theaters in a big way this autumn, led by Takashi Miike's "13 Assassins," fresh from its Venice film festival world premiere last month, kicking off a run of six major releases over three months.

The boom highlights the growing importance of older audiences to Japan's film business as the population rapidly ages and retirees with ample time and money return to the multiplexes to take in the kind of movies they enjoyed back in the samurai cinema heyday of the 1950s and '60s.

"People are retiring, the kids have left home and it's just the husband and wife with time on their hands," said Masao Teshima, president of Asmik Ace Entertainment, the studio behind "The Lady Shogun and Her Men" and "Abacus and Sword."

"There's a market for samurai dramas made for such people," he told Reuters, noting that those aged 60-65 represent Japan's biggest population segment.

Indeed, Toho release "13 Assassins," a remake of a 1963 film about a band of samurai hired to bump off the cruel brother of a Shogun, opened at a solid No. 3 on the last weekend in September, despite tough competition in a crowded market from 3D holdovers "Umizaru: The Last Message" and "Resident Evil: Afterlife."

One weekend later, "Lady Shogun," which Asmik is co-distributing with Shochiku, swashbuckled to a No. 2 debut, according to box office tracker Kogyo Tsushinsha, boding well for the upcoming four samurai movie releases.   Continued...