Behind the rising trend of 2-part movies

Behind the rising trend of 2-part movies
A promotional still for “Kiseiju: Kanketsuhen” (Parasyte: The Final)

A growing trend in Japanese moviemaking is to create and release films in two parts. The trend began to accelerate last year with the cinematic version of "Rurouni Kenshin" and gained momentum with "Kiseiju" (Parasyte) and "Solomon no Gisho" (Solomon's Perjury) this spring. It continues with "Shingeki no Kyojin" (Attack on Titan) in summer.

Abroad, blockbuster films, such as "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings," were publicized as a trilogy or a longer series right from the beginning.

In Japan, "Death Note," both parts of which opened in cinemas in 2006, marked the beginning of the two-part film movement. Of the films created in two parts, "SP" (2010-2011) derives from a TV drama, but the large majority of the films are live-action versions of manga.

"It used to be difficult to represent a near-futuristic, sci-fi-like world on the big screen, but technological advances have made that possible," said Akihiro Yamauchi, the producer of the live-action film version of the sci-fi manga "Shingeki no Kyojin."

"Popular manga works tend to be epics in 10 or 20 volumes; that's probably why their cinematic versions are split into two parts," Yamauchi said. "Initially, 'Shingeki' was going to be a single film, but then we thought it would be impossible to sufficiently show the world of the manga on screen with just one film."

In the old days, epic films ran at one showing with an intermission. However, moviegoers today apparently do not want to sit through a film that takes three or four hours.

In most two-part films, each part is a self-contained story so that viewers can enjoy it even if they watch only the second part. "Solomon no Gisho" is an exception to this rule. Since it is the film version of a mystery novel, the story does not conclude at the end of the first part.

"Maybe this is the first time a literary work has been turned into a two-part film," said Shuhei Akita, the film's producer. "There was a risk that people might shy away from the work because they felt they would have to see both parts. If you try to make a film [version of this novel] without losing the essence of the original story, it would take five hours, at least. From the production point of view, it was inevitable to make a two-part film."

Various advantages

If moviegoers see both parts, box office revenue doubles. Films in two parts can have an epic feel to them as well. Since both parts are often shot back-to-back, it is also possible to cut production costs. Less time and money are required as cast and staff members are assembled for both parts, rather than have them come back for each work. Sets and props can also be used for both parts, and postproduction work, such as adding visual effects, can run smoothly as well.

Yamauchi says cost-cutting has other implications. "Since we can inject more from the budget into specific areas of the film, the work's quality becomes better," he said. "Manga fans are very discerning. They won't be convinced with a half-baked work."

In the case of "Solomon," there were many middle school students in the cast, so the shooting had to be concentrate during their summer holidays. Boys' voices may break, too.

"Ayumu Mochizuki, who played the role of Takuya Kashiwagi [the character who dies from a fall], grew six centimeters during the shooting," Akita said. In such a case, it would look unnatural if the second part was shot after a long interval.

The two parts of "Death Note" were released 4½ months apart. In the cases of "Solomon" and "Shingeki," the interval between both parts has been reduced to five to seven weeks.

If the interval between parts is about three months or even six months, the DVD for the first part may become available for rent, or it may be broadcast on regular TV. Then those who have missed the first part when it was in theatres may go see the second part. This trend can be seen with "Death Note," the first part of which earned ¥2.85 billion (S$31 m) at the box office while the second part took in ¥5.2 billion.

"But it's hard to keep moviegoers interested in one work as new films are released one after another. Their interest [in a two-part film] is at the highest level immediately after seeing the first part," Yamauchi said.

Two-part films can cut publicity costs as well. All the publicity can be concentrated at the time of the release of the first part, which in itself becomes a publicity tool for the second part.

Fans also want to see both parts in quick succession. This was particularly so with "Solomon," a murder mystery.

"We released the second part while the first part was still showing in cinemas," Akita said. "Most of the cinemas where both parts were shown agreed to continue showing the first part during the first week of the second part's release."

Perhaps this is why box office profits for the first two days of the second part of the murder mystery surpassed the box office take for the first two days of the first part by 40 per cent.

Next year, a film version of "64 - Rokuyon," a police novel by Hideo Yokoyama, is set to be released in two parts.

"Intrinsically, we should think of making a single-part film," Akita said. "I don't think two-part films will become mainstream, but it's a good thing that there are more options for filmmakers."

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