Syrupy ‘eternal love’ dramas finding favor, fans ready to fork out billions

by Keiko Kimura

Kyodo News

Amid an explosion of “jun’ai” — or pure love — television programs and books in Japan, movie companies are also getting into the act.

“Sekai no Chushin de, Ai o Sakebu” (“Crying out for Love, From the Center of the World”), directed by Isao Yukisada and produced by Minami Ichikawa and Kei Haruna, was released in May and became a blockbuster.

“Sekachu,” as the teen love story is known, earned 8.35 billion yen and has been seen by about 6.25 million people.

Its success prompted the movie companies involved to release the film “Be With You,” directed by Nobuhiro Doi, on Oct. 30, which also became a huge hit.

“Be With You” tells the story of a woman, supposed to have been dead, who returns to her husband and son for six weeks during the rainy season. That movie was based on the book by Takuji Ichikawa, which sold some 1 million copies.

On another front, the major U.S. movie studio Warner Brothers Inc. will release “Windstruck,” a South Korean movie that Warner Japan bought, on Dec. 11.

Its leading actress is Jun Jihyun, also popular in Japan for her movie “My Sassy Girl.”

It is rare for the company to release an Asian movie during the peak period.

Shingo Sekine, a publicity director at Warner Japan, said music, seasons, unique stories and top actors are the necessary ingredients to make a love story movie a hit.

“In addition, the new movie contains all the trends of this year, a touching story like ‘Sekachu’ and South Korean movie trends,” Sekine said.

“The Notebook,” based on the best-selling book in the United States by Nicholas Sparks, with eternal love as its theme, will be released throughout Japan in early January.

It is like an old version of “Sekachu” with the American South as its stage.

Its distributor, Gaga Communications Inc., claims the movie will be the biggest thing yet in the pure love boom.

Minami Ichikawa, a producer at Toho Co., which distributed “Sekachu,” said of the movie, “What was written in the original work has already become a social phenomenon, and young people have come to choose Japanese movies for dating.

“At the age of instant love through mobile phones and e-mail, old-style love stories of exchanging phone messages seems like a fresh classic film,” Ichikawa said.

Kazutaka Akimoto, deputy performance director at Shochiku Co., which will release “Windstruck” and “The Notebook” at theaters under its wing, said due to the runaway success of “Sekachu,” it is easy for these projects to attract funding.

“Japanese movies of this kind may possibly increase next year and the year after next,” Akimoto said.