Warner Entertainment Japan Inc., a subsidiary of U.S. media giant Time Warner Inc., plans to acquire more Japanese films and increase local production of movies in response to the growing popularity of domestic films, said William Ireton, who was named president of the company in May.
Ireton, 50, said Japanese movies have boosted their share of the domestic box office take from 27 percent in 2002 to 41 percent last year thanks to films based on TV dramas, including the “Umizaru” (“Sea Monkey”) series.
“One of the initiatives I will be proposing as president is to increase the number of Japanese productions and acquisitions,” Ireton said in an interview with The Japan Times.
His plan already appears to be bearing fruit, as the movie “Death Note,” which was released June 17 and is being distributed by Warner Entertainment Japan, took over the top slot at the box office that weekend from “The Da Vinci Code.”
This is the first time a Japanese movie distributed by a non-Japanese company opened at No. 1, Ireton said.
The sequel, “Death Note — the Last Name,” is expected to hit screens this fall.
Ireton said the company hopes to form alliances with publishers to produce movies from best-selling novels, a business model that has proven successful around the world.
“I know that the competition is fierce out there, (but) we offer the possibility to stakeholders that their properties can get international distribution” through Warner Entertainment’s worldwide network.
Ireton is pinning his hopes for growth on Warner’s Asian and Western movies, as well as acquisition of other company’s films overseas, which he wants to distribute exclusively in the Japanese market.
But the industry cannot increase the number of moviegoers if it doesn’t get access to more theaters, and the introduction of multiplexes has changed the business scene, Ireton said.
Warner Mycal, a joint venture between the Time Warner Group and domestic supermarket chain Mycal Corp., a subsidiary of retailer Aeon Corp., opened Japan’s first cinema complex in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 1993.
Before the multiplex came to Japan, movie theaters were concentrated in big-name districts, including Tokyo’s Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza, but multiplexes in the suburbs have changed movie-going.
“The multiplex made it much more a pleasant experience,” said Ireton, referring to online reservations and later operating hours that let people catch a movie after work.
Of the 2,926 screens nationwide, 1,954, or two-thirds, were part of a multiplex in 2005, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association in Japan.
Movie theaters have to remain competitive and provide high-quality service, with better sound and picture quality, Ireton said.
In a world where broadband is common in homes, Internet piracy has become a headache for the company, said Ireton, especially given Japan’s advanced technology.
Unlike in the United States, people who buy pirated films in Japan are not subject to penalties and thus the government needs legislation to curb the problem, he said.
“In Japan, you can only (crack) down on people who do the piracy. I personally believe if you buy something illegal, you should be punished,” he said.
For the time being, Warner Entertainment Japan is asking Internet portals that offer pirated movies to shut down the offending Web sites, an effort Ireton described as an endless war with copyright violators.
Born in Tokyo, Ireton initially got started in the movie business through his father, who first came to Japan in the 1950s as part of the Occupation’s Civil Information Education Service, a body that showed propaganda movies to the public.
After Ireton’s father left the government, he stayed on in Japan, married a Japanese and started a movie magazine called Far East Film News.
“When I was little, my parents used to take me to film festivals in Venice, Berlin and Boston,” Ireton said. “I was learning about the industry through the magazine.”
After graduating from college, Ireton joined Toho-Towa Co. and later became head of the Japanese unit of Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. in 1988.
Now Ireton is as addicted to the movie business as his father was.
Movies “keep me engaged with the younger generation and with the new technology,” he said, adding he is attracted to the diversity of the stories the movies tell.
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