Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Boys Over Flowers" über alles

Hisashiburi! It's good to be back. Seen anything decent lately?

Chances are it wasn't "Boys Over Flowers" (Hana Yori Dango Fainaru), which is shaping up to be this year's "Koizora". This July 4th column by editor Komai Naofumi breaks down the math behind its dishearteningly gargantuan success, and illustrates how the profitability of high-rating-TV-show-turned-multiplex-fodder means their ilk are sure to be raping and pillaging the souls of undiscerning filmgoers for the foreseeable future.

Even with its various numerical achievements before it even hit theatres, such as selling 240,000 advance tickets (the most ever sold for a Toho live-action film) and 250,000 applications for a preview screening at the Budokan, the momentum of "Boys Over Flowers" upon its release has far exceeded expectations. In the two-day period from its opening on June 28th, it was seen by 805,350 people and made 1,005,798,910 yen. That means it wrung 1 billion yen out of 400 screens in the space of two days.

Word has it that "Boys Over Flowers" could achieve a 10 billion yen haul because of this opening - a 160% improvement on that of fellow TBS production "Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World" (which ultimately racked up 8.5 billion yen) - but that's probably a little off the mark. You couldn't call it a valid comparison.

First of all, let's measure it against the previous week's opening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (excluding advance screenings). That film pulled in 806,427,400 yen in its first weekend, meaning that the turnout for "Boys Over Flowers" was 125% better. In addition, while "Indiana Jones" went out on 789 screens, "Boys Over Flowers" started with 400. In other words, it has hammered out a 125% superior performance with around half the screens of "Indiana Jones", and holds the current record for the biggest opening by any film released this year.

Also, the most appropriate yardstick for forecasting the box office revenue of "Boys Over Flowers" would most likely be "Hero" (produced by Fuji TV et al and released in September of last year), in the sense that it also came from a high-rating TV series and had a TV company at the helm, with distribution by Toho. In its first two days in release it pulled in 749,807 filmgoers and earned 1,009,473,875 yen, which coincides well with the performance of "Boys Over Flowers. "Hero" eventually brought in 8.15 billion yen, so we can expect that "Boys Over Flowers" will do similarly well, namely around 8 billion. Needless to say, in all probability it will supplant "Indiana Jones" as the second biggest hit of the summer holidays 1 (I already retracted my silver medal forecast for "Indiana Jones" last week).

All in all, the massive success of "Boys Over Flowers" is an occurrence that underlines the fact that today's hit films are being made by television companies. Both "Boys Over Flowers" and "Hero" originated in popular television series that constantly rated over 20%. As a 1% rating is said to correspond to 1 million viewers, that means over 20 million people were tuning in each week. If we suppose that one out of four viewers (i.e. 5 million people) go to see the film version - that's 5 million tickets at 1500 yen each sold - we can estimate a box office take of 7.5 billion yen. Most filmgoers are female, so by factoring in the many available discounts such as ladies day, even by reducing the ticket price to 1300 yen that's still a 6.5 billion yen haul.

Of course, basic numerical simulations like these can't tell the whole story, but at the very least we can gain a glimpse of the revenue potential when popular TV shows become movies.

Incidentally "Partners" (Aibo - Gekijoban - Zettai Zetsumei! 42.195km Tokyo Biggu Shiti Marason), another television-to-film adaptation that was released in May and became a resounding hit, garnered average ratings of 15% over the course of several television series. Supposing that one in four of its 15 million-strong audience went to see it, meaning 3.75 million people, at 1500 yen per ticket that's a take of 5.625 billion yen. At 1300 yen a ticket, you're looking at 4.875 billion. For the record, in the 9 weeks to date since its release "Partners" box office take stands at 4.3 billion yen.

Just going on these calculations, I sense that we'll be seeing a steady stream of film adaptations of popular television series from now on. As it happens, across the Pacific in the U.S., the huge success of the film version of "Sex and the City" has given impetus to an adaptation of "Friends" 2. "24" and "Lost" are already on the same course.

In every country, films are deeply dependent on television. However, it's too late to worry about that now. It's more positive to look forward to more and more television viewers flooding into theatres.

*1 The odds-on favorite is Miyazaki Hayao's "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea".

*2 Since debunked as pure speculation, so there is some justice in the world after all.


  1. tv adaptations make no sense to me - lucky to see the films, let alone the TV shows from japan, of course - and, if you're still wondering, i watched 'funuke' last night. and very good it was too. completely under the radar for most, it seems, but absolutely just what i'd imagine would go down well with fans of the usual 'kamikaze girls' 'survive style 5+' crowd... nice, dark, quirky, cruel, beautiful comedy.

  2. I'm fine with drama adaptations if they're done well. Good Japanese dramas can actually even be better written than some Hollywood flicks, and sometimes uses the big screen format well. That was my problem with Hana Yori Dango. It boasts a bigger budget and locations around the world, but there's no ambition whatsoever in the script or character development. There was certainly no need in the plot to go around the world other than showing off some exotic locations in order to appear they made some kind of effort.

    But whatever, it's obviously Japan's answer to Sex and the City (in target audience, at least), so a guy like me can't possibly understand.

  3. Welcome back to the fray.

    I also have no problem with well-made adaptations, but things are admittedly lopsided. Many decry the lack of original ideas, but as long as TV ad revenues keep falling and adaptations keep doing well, they're not going anywhere!

    Aside from Hanadan making the clever move of continuing from where the TV show left off (a la SATC?), another trend are spin-off films (pioneered by Fuji, of course).

    I just got done writing about a spin-off to Partners: The Movie (Aibo: Gekijo-ban). Veteran Nikkatsu/Toei director Yasuharu Hasebe is helming (he also directed on the TV series). Good to see old-timers come back from the box, in any case.

  4. I've got nothing against the idea of adapting television series if the content and execution justify it, but films like "Boys Over Flowers" are less movies than glorified 特番 (special episodes) anyway. Just another 'revenue stream'.

    I let "Funuke" slip through the cracks last year, so I've yet to see it. Comparisons to "Kamikaze Girls" and "Survive Style 5+" won't exactly make me rush off to my local Tsutaya though...

  5. TheGoldenRock,

    Your take sounds about right to me, although I don't really agree with the Sex and the City comparisons. Although both are tailored almost exclusively to female audiences, their world views are quite different: where "Boy Over Flowers" is classic shojo manga wish fulfillment founded on the premise that a girl's ultimate achievement is finding true love, Sex and the City at the very least has pretensions of presenting strong adult women capable of balancing careers and love/sex lives. I don't think a Japanese film or television series made in the same spirit would be anywhere near as successful.


    Hasebe Yasuharu?!?!?! Sweet cinema jeebus! Are the 前売券 on sale yet?

    That's the first I've heard about a spin-off. Has the news broke in the Japanese rags yet?

  6. I think he just means demographic, though I doubt SATC (or any movie released in the US) has ever had a 91% female audience.

    Yeah it's all over the rags -- I heard whisper of it recently but it wasn't official. I didn't realize Hasebe had done directing on all 6 seasons (I never watch TV!!). Hopefully they let him pull out a few of his old tricks for the movie. It does feature a dead woman and a sekuhara subplot after all.

  7. Sure, but what I meant to say was that I don't think "Boys Over Flowers" fans and "Sex and the City" fans necessarily fall within the same demographic (although I'm sure there's some crossover). The former would definitely skew younger than the latter, at least.

    I was surprised to hear that Hasebe is still working. I guess it's not so amazing when the likes of Kaneto Shindo are still plugging away.

  8. It's kind of ironic; I did a writeup on HYD because I thought it was going to be ignored and it ended up being my most popular post ever by about a 1200% margin. Shows what I know. "10 Promises to My Dog" is in 2nd place, btw. I'm out of the predictions game.

  9. The SATC comparison basically means that the two films' popularity is something that males may not be able to understand or even accept because of the films appeal (albeit different). But yes, Hana Yori Dango skews far younger than Sex and the City and is probably more successful because youngsters (i.e. idol fans) are very willing to shell out money to see their idols in a movie that fulfill their fantasies.

    I don't believe there is a Japanese equivalent to Sex and the City, even though I'm sure Japanese TV have been trying for years to pull something like it off. Is SATC fairly popular in Japan? I would imagine so at least on the rental market


    Trust me, anything featuring J-pop idols won't get ignored on the internet. Overseas fan message board scour all over the web for anything in English about their idols, so it's no surprise that a detailed post about HYD would get so much traffic. My site got a bit of a boost after my rant was up as well, although I don't want to know the kind of hate letters from Arashi fans heading my way, if any.

  10. [...] Ryuganji translate an editorial that puts into simple numbers why TV drama adaptations will continue in Japanese cinema as long as just a fraction of its audience goes to see the [...]

  11. I agree that Funuke fits in with the Kamikaze and Survive crowd, but it really isn't like those two movies. It flew under most everyone's radar. Just see it, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised.