Japan Returns to the Cinema

Just this past weekend (October 16-18), the popular animation “Demon Slayer(鬼滅の刃)” released its first movie in cinemas across the nation, shattering all-time opening records by bringing in 4.6 billion JPY (approximately $44 million). This is both shocking and uplifting news for the entertainment industry in Japan. 

“Demon Slayer(鬼滅の刃)” began as a weekly manga (print comic book) series aimed at boys, running from 2016 to 2020. Due to its popularity, a TV anime series was released in spring of 2019, spreading its reach across a wider demographic and expanding its popularity even more. In September of 2019 it was announced that a full-length movie would be released in the fall of 2020. 

Everyone knew this movie was going to be a big success, but nobody expected it to be as successful as it has proven itself to be.

The anticipation of the film’s release was on such a grand scale, that ticketing websites – and even the movie’s official page – repeatedly crashed due to the heavy traffic. Once ticketing websites came online, tickets sold out immediately. It is truly impressive for a TV anime series that just released in the spring of 2019 to have exploded in popularity across so many demographics. Not only that, but the marketing strategy used for the movie release was also a daring move on the studio’s part. 

During the airing of the last episode of season one, fans were left hanging with a teaser for the upcoming portion of the story – not to be released as part of season two, but rather as a full-length movie. “Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train” picks up immediately where the first season of the TV anime ended and does not shy away from the action and climactic scenes for which fans had been waiting – one full year! What is impressive about this tactic is that most anime movies are NOT canon to the actual story and are seen as side stories or events taking place on the side, whereas Demon Slayer the Movie was a direct sequel to the anime – so the studio gambled that its popularity would hold until its release. 

Pent up emotions and unmet entertainment needs 

Wanting to see the film myself and take advantage of the opportunity to observe the crowds in attendance proved difficult because I had to wait until Monday evening just to get tickets for a packed late show starting at 9:40PM.

During the weekend, it was already being reported that repeat viewing had already begun, with many fans reporting they saw the film on Friday afternoon and then immediately bought another ticket for a late night/early showings (2AM and 4AM) on Saturday. While repeat viewing is always an interesting topic, we felt that it was truly amazing that so many people were deciding they wanted to see it again as soon as possible (within the opening weekend).

While there is still no public data released on the viewer demographics, it has been reported by bloggers and Twitter users that the audience skewed heavily female. Interestingly, not only were kids and teens rushing to attend, but also many families and individuals in their 40-50s. These reports were verified during our attendance where we noticed a large number of females in pairs, attending the film together.  

Okay, so an animated film broke box office records; why is this so important for the cinema community? 

Movie theaters across the globe – and indeed, the entertainment industry as a whole – have taken a huge hit during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving audiences with nothing or not much to watch. During these tough times after the lifting of Japan’s state of emergency, Japanese cinemas screened a few successful titles like “From Today, It’s My Turn: The Movie”, “Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s New Dinosaur”, and “Tenet”, with the following box office results. 

News on Demon Slayer’s release is being covered on all media fronts in Japan, building widespread awareness among more than just anime fans (i.e.,movie-goers, anime fans, manga fans, and voice actor fans).

This historic release, accompanied by most theaters operating at full capacity (with coronavirus prevention measures in place), has sent a signal to Japanese audiences that is now “safe” to return to the cinema, even for those with no interest in anime films. Theatre-going activity will continue to grow as audiences feel more peace of mind to see new films.

Unlike in other parts of the world where cinema chains are struggling to stay open, Japanese movie goers are definitely showing an interest in returning to the cinema. Based on the performance of recently–released films and the wild success and buzz for Demon Slayer, it appears that general audiences will increasingly be more convinced that it is fine to go out and enjoy a day of entertainment.  

Another interesting motivation driving people to see this film revolves around its social aspect and appeal.  

With the majority of schools and offices reopening in Japan, and in-person activities restarting, the opportunities to talk with others who have seen the film (or with those who are interested in seeing it) are greater. And certainly, talking about this new film is much more appealing than talking about what you did during the Spring and Summer when you couldn’t leave the house. At a time when there are limited chances for shared experiences, the movie has served to fulfill a longing for relationship building (and re-building). 

The success of Demon Slayer the Movie is more than just great news for cinemas; it is great news for the Japanese economy and society. It is the first real sign that things are on track to returning to “normal” as much as that is possible. As people continue to follow the recommended coronavirus precautions, and more restaurants, bars, and establishments continue to implement measures that make people feel safe and at ease, we believe that other aspects of life will also continue begin to normalize – leading us into a new norm for the entertainment experience. 

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