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Japanese bestsellers to flood big screen

“Norwegian Wood,” “Confessions,” “Closed Note” and “Paradise Lost.”

These Japanese films, set to be released in Seoul next month, have one thing in common: they are all cinematic versions of Japan’s bestselling novels.

According to Cracker Pictures, one of local distributors of the films, this is no coincidence ― the trend of making book-based films has been popular in Japan for the past couple of years.

“For a while, Japan was all about making ‘event movies,’ movies that were based on TV dramas,” said the CEO of Cracker Pictures, who wanted to remain anonymous.

“Then the three major movie production companies in Japan ― including Toho Co., Ltd which produced the famous ‘Norwegian Wood’ ― started to make movies based on best-selling books about three years ago. And to their surprise, these movies did pretty well in the box office. And those films are now coming to Korea.”

The CEO said such literary-based Japanese films are more likely to do better in Korea as well. “While most Japanese books are available in Korean bookstores, Japanese TV dramas are still banned from network television in Korea,” he told The Korea Herald. “Because Koreans are familiar with Japanese literature, they might feel more comfortable with the contents of the films that are based on well-known novels. These films are more approachable, regardless of the cultural difference the two countries have.”

Among the four films, “Norwegian Wood,” based on a novel written by Japan’s literary megastar Haruki Murakami, is arguably drawing the most attention from the Korean audience.

The Japanese bestseller of the same title, which sold more than 9.2 million copies in Japan ever since its release in 1987, has been loved dearly by Korean readers as well.

Since its Korean-translated version was published in 1989, the book managed to remain a steady-seller in Korea for more than 20 years. In 2009, it was chosen as Koreans’ favorite Japanese work of fiction according to a survey organized by Korean Publishers Association.

Set in the late 1960s Tokyo, the novel tells a story of Toru Watanabe, an aloof university student who falls in love with two very different women ― beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko and self-confident, vibrant Midori. 
(From left) “Confessions,” “Closed Note” and “Norwegian Wood”
(From left) “Confessions,” “Closed Note” and “Norwegian Wood”

Co-starring Kenichi Matsuyama and Rinko Kikuchi, the adopted film is directed by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung. Actress Kiko Mizuhara, who plays outgoing Midori, has been recently gained media attention after it was revealed that her mother is Korean.

It has been reported that director Hung, who read the novel in its French-translated version, had to spend almost four years persuading the reluctant Murakami for his approval.

“Japanese movies in general haven’t been doing so well in Korea since 2005,” said the CEO of Cracker Pictures. “I think such trend of making literary-based films will continue for a while in Japan and it will bring notable changes to their popularity in Korea as well.”

“Paradise Lost,” a 1997 film which drew more than 3 million viewers in Japan, is being released in Korea again after its first release 14 years ago.

The film is based on a novel of the same title, written by Junichi Watanabe. Telling a story of a middle-aged man and a woman who end up committing suicide together after having an affair outside their marriage, both the book and movie received sensational reviews after their release.

In the thriller genre, “Confessions,” a movie based on the bestselling novel of the same title is on its way. Written by Ganae Minato, the award-winning book tells a shocking story of a middle school teacher whose daughter is murdered by her own 13-year-old students. Its movie version topped the Japanese box office for four consecutive weeks last year.

On the other hand, “Closed Note,” scheduled for release next month, was produced based on an online series-novel written by established writer Shizukui Shusuke. The online series attracted more than 1 million readers to its website. The movie has a different ending from the online series, while keeping the essence of the novel which is a delicate love story of a young university student.

Yoo Eun-ah, who works for the marketing division of Mirovision Inc., the local distributor of “Confessions,” said it has been easier to promote the film as its title, because of the original novel, is already widely known. “I think Japanese (film) market is the place where OSMU (One source, Multi-use) strategies are used the most,” Yoo told The Korea Herald. “It is almost natural to make proven bestsellers into movies.”

Film critic Kim Jong-cheol said publishers and film production companies collaborate well in Japan.

“There is a major publishing company in Japan called Kadokawa Shoten Publishing,” Kim told The Korea Herald. “They’ve been making their books into movies.”

“Japan has a big market for literary works within specific genres, such as horror, mystery and fantasy,” Kim said. “A lot of books in these genres were made into movies in the late 1990s. I don’t think those movies would’ve done well in Korea as they wouldn’t exactly meet Koreans’ taste, and Japanese films in general haven’t been doing so well in Korea for the last two years. But upcoming movies such as ‘Confessions’ look promising.”

By Claire Lee (clairelee@heraldcorp.com)
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