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Crowdfunded anime heading for box-office success in Japan

Chance to have name in credits spurs contributions

TOKYO -- A crowdfunded Japanese animated film is on its way to becoming a box-office hit, symbolizing an emerging style of film production for the country. 

After opening in theaters on Nov. 12, director Sunao Katabuchi's "Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni" ("In This Corner of the World") reached an attendance figure of 166,490 in just 13 days even though it has mainly been screened in small cinemas. The film depicts the life of a woman in Hiroshima during World War II. 

The anime, adapted from a manga by Fumiyo Kouno, is distributed by Tokyo Theatres. It placed ninth in an attendance ranking between Nov. 12 and 18, according to Kogyo Tsushinsha.

It has become a rare hit for a production supported by crowdfunding, which seeks individual, and usually small, contributions from the public via the internet. 

At Theatre Shinjuku in central Tokyo, so many people have flocked to see the movie that the cinema sells standing room only tickets. Such popularity boosted sales to 11.3 million yen ($100,700) in the week after the film opened -- the highest figure over the past decade at that movie theater.

The number of cinemas screening the film continues to increase, from 63 nationwide in the first week to 68 in the second week. For the third week, which started Saturday, the number is expected to jump to 82, and many more cinemas are requesting prints of the film, said Keisuke Akasu, head of the film sales department at Tokyo Theatres. 

Credit worthy

Producers partially financed the film through Makuake, a crowdfunding site operated by Tokyo's CyberAgent Crowd Funding. They began asking for contributions in March 2015 and raised 39 million yen -- about 80% more than the target -- from 3,374 people by late May that year.

Overseas, crowdfunding has been used for various purposes, including resurrecting a drama show after it ended. In Japan, the method is often used by independent producers to obtain funding to complete an entire film.

CyberAgent Crowd Funding President Ryotaro Nakayama said "In This Corner of the World" is the first crowdfunded film to be so successful. 

As an incentive, the producers promised to include the names of people who contribute at least 10,800 yen in the film's credits. 

While the funds thus raised represent about only 10% of the total production cost, producer Taro Maki said the impact was significant nonetheless.

"The amount [raised through crowdfunding] became seed money that led other companies to spend more on the production," Maki said. "I'm so grateful for the contributions."

When the producers launched another crowdfunding drive on Nov. 22 to fund the cost of director Katabuchi's overseas travel to attend screenings of the film, contributions reached the target in just 11 hours. There was so much enthusiasm that on his Twitter account Katabuchi called on people to stop contributing for the time being. 

People power

Distributors said the film's popularity has been boosted by word-of-mouth.

After Eurospace, a cinema in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district, set up a board for viewers to post comments, dozens of people wrote notes describing their impressions of the film. One said, "I was drawn into the world of this film as soon as the heroine spoke her very first line." Another commented, "I'm reminded to try to spend the time I can with my loved ones in a fulfilling way for the rest of my life. Thank you."

To take advantage of this promotional effect, Tokyo Theatres ran a series of preview screenings for audiences of 6,000 to 7,000, compared to the usual 1,000.

This year, animated films are leading the box office in Japan, including "Kimi no Na wa" ("Your Name") and "Koe no Katachi" ("A Silent Voice"). The popularity of "In This Corner of the World" has been augmented by trailers for it shown before these megahits.

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