Why the Japanese Wave Just Keeps on Coming

      November 29, 2007 08:05

      Armadas of middle-aged Japanese women no longer chase Bae Yong-joon, the biggest star the Korean wave of the early millennium produced; instead, more and more Korean fans are now dying for a glimpse of their favorite Japanese stars. In Korea, some of the so-called J-drama maniacs watch Japanese soaps all night long, and the growing popularity of Japanese novels here already outstrips any enthusiasm for Korean writing.

      Obviously pleased with the reversal of fortunes, a Japanese movie magazine hailed the Japanese boom in Korea, saying, "While the Korean wave is on the wane, the Japanese wave is waxing." Many critics agree that while Korean Wave is receding, Japanese culture has been slowly assimilated into the mainstream of Korean culture and has firmly taken root there. So what are the strengths differentiating the Japanese Wave? The Chosun Ilbo asked experts for their views.

      Blockbusters based on Japanese comics and novels. From above, "200 Pound Beauty." "Battle Of Wits" and "Fly, Daddy, Fly."

      ◆ Stars

      Korea only opened its door to Japanese movies and drama on Jan. 2004, and ever since, the number of Japanese films shown in Korea has been on a steady increase. This year there were a total of 81 so far, compared with 29 in 2004, 34 in 2005, and 51 in 2006. Big name Japanese stars such as Takuya Kimura, Jo Odagiri, the star of the popular J-film "Mezon Do Himiko," and Satoshi Tsumabuki from "Josee, The Tiger and the Fish" have all visited Korea to promote their new films. "It used to be rare for Japanese stars to visit Korea, but now they see Korea as a lucrative market," said an insider with a company that distributes Japanese films here.

      Sustainability is one thing that sets the Japanese Wave apart from the Korean Wave, which effectively lasted only for two years from 2004 to 2006. And while the Korean Wave managed to produce only a handful of big stars -- headed by Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo -- Japan continuously delivers fresh stars to be adored. Starting with Takuya Kimura, whose popularity just keeps growing, actors like Jo Odagiri, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Satoshi Tsumabuki all succeeded in capturing the hearts of Korean fans. Female stars are no exception with actresses like Juri Ueno, Erika Sawajiri, Yuu Aoi and Aoi Miyazaki garnering more popularity in Korea as the year goes by. And while Korean actors appear in only one to two movies a year, Japanese actors frequently shoot several.

      ◆ Creative content

      Among the domestic films released this year, blockbusters like "200 Pounds Beauty," "Highway Star," "Black House," "Kidnapping Granny K" and "Lovers Behind" were all based on Japanese sources. Last year and this year, as many as 21 films were produced in Korea using Japanese source material, a significant rise compared to just five from 2001 to 2005. In other words, Korea depends on Japan for its creative juice.

      The biggest strength of the Japanese Wave, then, is creativity. In Japan, popular comics or novels are often made into dramas and movies, creating a kind of a synergy effect. In Korea, hit dramas like "Winter Sonata" and "Daejanggeum (Jewel in the Palace)" rarely venture into other media. Japan also boasts a rich variety of material for its dramas and movies. Stereotypical Cinderella stories dominate Korean dramas but are almost non-existent in Japan. Instead, bizarre yet brilliantly creative stories of ordinary individuals entertain Japanese viewers.

      "Japanese dramas and movies don't just appeal to the sentimental," says Yun Ji-won of the LG Electronics' Life Soft Research Institute. "People don't get easily bored with Japanese dramas because they portray the life story of an individual in a serio-comical manner unlike Korean dramas that are more or less the same as each other."

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