Why these 10 Japanese movies earned over USD 75 M at China’s box office in 2016

The 10 Japanese movies introduced to cinemas in China this year are expected to earn more than RMB 500 million (USD 74 million), according to ACGx, a platfom specializing in animation, comics, and games that is run by search engine giant Baidu.

Japanese movies are thriving in China

As of Wednesday, eight of the 10 Japanese movie scheduled to play in cinemas in China in 2016 have made a total of roughly USD 400 million. Among them are stories about classic characters like Naruto and Doraemon – each of these earned RMB 103 million in China.

The remaining two movies yet to be played are One Piece and Your Name. The former is the 13th movie of a popular story that has gained 4.16 billion play hits on video-streaming app iQIYI. The latter is a mega-hit by Makoto Shinkai that won a top animation award, and topped the Japanese box office list for nine consecutive weeks.

Left: One Piece | right: Your Name
Left: One Piece | right: Your Name

Considering that a Weibo post announcing the release date of Your Name in China was forwarded 96,000 times, the 10 Japanese movies are expected to easily earn a total of RMB 500 million and beyond in China this year.

Names, not storylines, bring in moviegoers

A look at the 10 Japanese movies introduced to China this year shows that they are mostly animations. Additionally, seven of them are the movie versions of classic stories that those born in the 1980s and 1990s grew up with.

With fans accumulated over years and even decades, prominent series can perform well in sales, even when the movie content itself is far from satisfactory.

Take Detective Conan as an example. The story of this intelligent teenage detective trapped in a boy’s body has many fans in both Japan and China. Despite fan complaints that the movie versions have not been as good as before – a view which this writer would endorse – the movies are nevertheless hitting a new box office records year after year.

Detective Conan

Unleashed potential: Japanese anime can achieve more in China

The fact that fans of a series tend to buy tickets regardless of a film’s content reflects why Japanese anime movies can achieve more at China’s box office.

According to ACGx, Japanese movies introduced to China often put insufficient time and effort in their promotion. Taking that into consideration, most of the viewers are fans following a series for years – not the public in general. The above-mentioned success of Naruto and Doraemon in China this year may largely be attributed to their marketing prior to the release dates.

monkey king2
Left: Monkey King: Hero is Back | Right: Big Fish and Begonia

In comparison, Chinese animated movies Monkey King: the Hero is Back (2015) and Big Fish and Begonia (2016) earned RMB 956 million and RMB 500 million respectively, according to Chinese media Ifeng.com and People.cn. Both of these two movies are based on prominent stories and were supported by an aggressive advertising campaign.

Pirated v.s. authorized versions

Chinese viewers have been used to watching pirated movies online. However, the reasons accounting for this option may have changed – viewers today opt for pirated movies, not only because they are free, but because they are often better than the authorized versions in other ways.

For example, when LeEco’s video-streaming platform Le.com introduced the Japanese animated movie The Garden of Words in 2013, a pirated version was available on the same day. The pirated version offered a resolution of 1080p, even higher than Le.com’s 720p. In addition, the pirated versions offered a wider range of subtitles.

The Garden of Words

In other words, when movies with authorized copyright can provide a better watching experience, there is little need to combat piracy, as people will willingly pay for what they enjoy.

The estimated 500 million Chinese millennials have fed from a subculture, first created in Japan, widely known as Er Ci Yuan in China, or “two dimensional” in English. The subculture refers to animation, comics, games and novels (ACGN) and has become an important source of entertainment for young Chinese.

The culture of Er Ci Yuan have fed large anime sites Bilibili and Acfun, which have millions of millennial members.

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