Two-part movies catching on in Japan

Two-part movies catching on in Japan
Cosplayers dressed up as Storm Troopers and Scout Trooper (C) take part in a Star Wars Day fan event in Tokyo.

A growing trend in Japanese movie-making is to create and release films in two parts.

The trend took off last year with the cinematic version of samurai manga Rurouni Kenshin, and gained momentum with Parasyte (Kiseiju) and Solomon's Perjury (Solomon No Gisho) in Japan this spring. It continues with Attack On Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin) in summer.

Both parts of Rurouni Kenshin and sci-fi film Parasyte were screened in Singapore, while the first part of sci-fi movie Attack On Titan is slated for Aug 13.

Two-part movies in Japan also mirror a trend in Hollywood blockbusters, such as Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings, which were promoted as trilogies or a longer series right from the beginning.

Death Note, both parts of which opened in cinemas in 2006, marked the beginning of the two-part film movement in Japan.

Said Akihiro Yamauchi, producer of the live-action film version of the popular Attack On Titan manga: "Popular manga works tend to be epics in 10 or 20 volumes - that's probably why their cinematic versions are split into two parts.

"Initially, Attack On Titan 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 spans 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's Perjury 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.

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."

If moviegoers see both parts, box office revenue doubles. Films made in two parts can have an epic feel to them. As 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 the second film. Sets and props can also be used for both parts, and post-production work - such as adding visual effects - can run smoothly as well.

Mr Yamauchi said cost-cutting has other benefits. "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."

The two parts of Death Note were released 4½ months apart in Japan. In the cases of Solomon's Perjury and Attack On Titan, 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 Japanese 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 yen at the box office while the second part took in 5.2 billion yen.

"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," said Mr Yamauchi.

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's Perjury, a murder mystery.

"We released the second part while the first part was still showing in cinemas (in Japan)," Mr 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."

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