Fresh Japanese Wave Threatens Korean Pop Culture

      March 26, 2007 09:58

      What the film "Secret of The Beauty," which drew 6.6 million viewers late last year, and MBC's recent hit drama "White Tower" have in common is that they were remakes of Japanese originals. The success of these and other Japanese works in Korea is raising concerns that Japanese pop culture could once again dominate Korea.

      ◆ Dependence on Japanese Stories

      Another drama based on a Japanese original is scheduled to air on SBS from March 30. "Lover" stars Yoo Oh-sung and Yoon Son-ha and is the remake of the 1995 Japanese series written by Hisashi Nozawa. Nozawa is also the author of the novel that was the basis of last year's SBS drama "Alone in Love," which was very popular among viewers in their 20s and 30s.

      From left, posters for the film "Secret of The Beauty" and dramas "White Tower," "Lover" and "Alone in Love."

      Korean drama production companies are competing to secure the rights to Japanese novels and mangas. KimJongHak Production and JS Pictures each have already bought the rights of three Japanese works to turn them into dramas here. "We have taken a serious interest in Japanese novels and mangas since late last year," JS Pictures president Lee Jin-seok says. In the film industry, the number of movies based on Japanese works is also increasing. Between 2002 and 2005, only one or two films were based on Japanese works, but the number rose to three in 2006 and is expected to more than double in 2007, including the already released "Highway Star" and seven other works in planning or production.

      All this enthusiasm has sent prices for rights soaring. It now costs some W30-100 million (US$1=W938) for a novel and W10-70 million for a manga, depending on the reputation of the artist or work. Industry insiders say that is nearly double what they cost in late 2005. "Just in 2002, it was possible to buy a good Japanese work for as little as W5 million if we did well in negotiations," says KimJongHak Production. "But prices for Japanese works are skyrocketing as broadcasters and producers compete."

      ◆ The Power of Japanese Stories

      Experts say the Korean entertainment industry's dependence on Japanese pop culture will increase because the Japanese novel and manga markets are popular around the world. According to the Korean Publishing Research Institute, as of 2006 the size of the Korean novel market was no more than W203 billion, while that of Japanese market stood at W724.3 billion. The gap for the manga markets was even greater, with the Japanese market (W4 trillion) some 40 times bigger than the Korean market (W124.2 billion). The scriptwriter Lee Ki-won, who wrote "White Tower," says in Japan, unlike Korea, the world of highbrow literature interacts with the popular literary world, which contributes to creating very unique stories.

      Japanese novels have also started beating Korean novels here. The Kyobo Book Centre says Japanese novels occupied 31 percent of the Korean novel market in 2006, leaving Korean novels behind with 23 percent. Of course, some Korean movies and dramas are also being remade in Japan, including film "My Boss, My Hero" and drama "Hotelier." But overall Korean pop culture is at risk in the face of a Japanese Wave.

      ◆ A Japanese Wave?

      Some experts fear that enthusiasm for Japanese pop culture is headed for a renewed domination of Korea. Bae Won-keun, a researcher at the KPRI, says it is a shame that Korean entertainment companies scramble to snap up Japanese stories for quick returns rather than working to strengthen their creative power. "The entertainment industry should make more effort to cultivate young writers with fresh ideas," he adds.

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