With relations between the two countries deteriorating, a Chinese film remake of Japanese TV drama series wasn't exactly a safe bet.
But the movie "Say Yes," based on the Japanese series "101st Marriage Proposal" from the early 1990s, has become a smash hit in China, attracting 6.48 million moviegoers and taking in 2.9 billion yen ($30 million) in its first 23 days. It was released in more than 100 theaters on Feb. 12 and grossed more than 600 million yen on Valentine's Day alone.
Even without the issue of politics, it is rare for a love story to be so popular, experts say. The fact that the original Japanese series is so well known in China made the project even more of a gamble, according to Kosuke Hosokai, a Fuji Television Network Inc. employee who was involved in the film's production.
The project was green lighted two years ago, but since then, the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands struck a major blow to Japan-China relations.
Hosokai paid close attention to reactions from audience members because he was concerned Chinese moviegoers might be put off by the film's Japanese connection.
Happily, love trumped politics.
"There were many people who thought that politics and culture are separate," Hosokai said. "The power of a production can transcend time and borders."
The domestic changes that have taken place within China are another factor in the film's success.
"China has achieved economic growth. Now, (Chinese people) do not necessarily feel removed from things like falling in love with an unattainable woman and living a lavish lifestyle," Hosokai said. "It may not have been realistic in the 1990s when the TV series aired, but now it seems there is an increasing number of people who relate to the characters and live a life like they do."
Love stories taking place in urban areas and marriages in which there is a gap in income or social status between the partners are popular themes of recent Chinese dramas, he said, with fancy Shanghai restaurants and lavish wedding ceremonies taking place on hotel rooftops frequently featured.
Liu Wenbing, a film researcher specializing in Japanese and Chinese films, was also overjoyed at the film's warm reception.
"I was surprised to find no negative comments (about the remake) on the Internet," said Liu, an adjunct instructor at Waseda University and author of books on Japanese and Chinese films.
According to Liu, Chinese men and women of all ages have shared their opinions of "Say Yes" online, with many of them giving positive feedback. One post said that it had the same vibes as the Japanese dramas she watched so eagerly when she was younger.
Liu added that many Japanese films featuring such stars as Ken Takakura, Momoe Yamaguchi and others were shown in China during the 1980s to relearn filmmaking crafts lost during the Cultural Revolution. The popularity of Japanese films and dramas continued until more modern and stylish dramas were introduced in the 1990s.
"The generation of people who were in their youth back then are playing major roles in the film industry in China right now," Liu said. "Production and audience members still vividly remember that they were given dreams at that time. I think they have a favorable and composed attitude toward culture without being swayed by politics."
However, a popular Japanese actor who served as emcee for a Chinese variety show was pulled from the program last year.
"Following the success of 'Say Yes,' I hope Japanese and Chinese filmmakers will collaborate to make a film that zeroes in on each other's history. Culture can be a soothing balm for political issues," Liu added.
The original "101st Marriage Proposal" series portrays the love story between Tatsuro, a dowdy, middle-aged man played by Tetsuya Takeda, and a beautiful cellist named Kaoru, portrayed by Atsuko Asano.
In the Chinese film remake, popular actress Lin Chi-ling plays the role of Kaoru, renamed Xun. Lin has appeared in John Woo's historical epic "Red Cliff" and many other films and TV dramas.
The film adaptation kept much of the ambiance of the original drama series--no changes were made to the theme song or to memorable scenes--but the producers did make some changes to better suit the Chinese market.
"In the Chinese version, we made the main male character work at a low-paying job to highlight the fact that it is an urban romantic comedy and there is a status gap (between the characters)," Hosokai said.
"Say Yes" will also hit cinemas in Taiwan, and releases in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan are under consideration.
The original "101st Marriage Proposal" aired in 1991 on Fuji Television-affiliated networks, with the final episode achieving a viewer rating of 36.7 percent in the Kanto region, according to Video Research Ltd.
A line delivered by Tetsuya Takeda's character Tatsuro--"I won't die! Because I love you"--became a popular phrase.
The theme song, "Say Yes," held the top spot on Oricon Inc.'s weekly single charts for 13 consecutive weeks.
China and South Korea produced a joint remake of the original series in 2003 starring South Korean actress Choi Ji-woo.
Source: The Asahi Shimbun
Haven't watched the original series, tbh. Only know the fame. Shall I put it on my drama-to-watch list?