This year, Japanese animation embraces its centennial anniversary celebration and also Japanese animated films witness an explosive growth in the Chinese market. This paper will brief the history of the introduction of Japanese animated films to China and analyze the performance and characteristics of Japanese animated films in Chinese film market.
This year, Japanese animation embraces its centennial anniversary celebration and also Japanese animated films witness an explosive growth in the Chinese market, from the first Japanese-produced animated film screened in 1917, to the TARO THE DRAGON BOY was introduced to China in 1979, and then to YOUR NAME that made RMB576 million box office last year and GIN TAMA, A SILENT VOICE, and SWORD ART ONLINE THE MOVIE: ORDINAL SCALE that screened this summer.
IMOKAWA MUKUZÔ GENKAN-BAN NO MAKI produced by Hekoten Shimokawa in 1917 was considered as the first Japanese animation film ever made. Thus, the year 1917 is deemed as the beginning year of Japanese animation. Today, Japanese animation not only becomes an important part of Japanese culture, but also a name card of Asian culture. China and Japan are close neighbors separated only by a narrow strip of water. The cultural communication between the two countries could date back to the ancient times. Japanese animation works are popular in China. Diversified and high-quality Japanese animations are a part of lovely childhood memories for many Chinese, even inspired the youth’s enthusiasm. This paper will brief the history of the introduction of Japanese animated films to China and analyze the performance and characteristics of Japanese animated films in Chinese film market.
The introduction of Japanese animated films to China has undergone 38 years and embraces the explosive era after a flat-lining trend
In the 1980s, Japanese animated films started to enter China, represented by three works (i.e. GALAXY EXPRESS 999, TARO THE DRAGON BOY and SWAN LAKE).
TARO THE DRAGON BOY was one of famous works of Miyoko Matsutani– the well-known children’s writer. This film was adapted from a Nagano folktale. In 1979, the TOEI ANIMATION CO., LTD. produced it to color anime film and showed it on the screen. In 1979, this film was introduced to China and it is also the first Japanese color widescreen animated film officially introduced to China.
In 1981, China introduced the single-episode SWAN LAKE produced by the TOEI ANIMATION CO., LTD. This film was aired in China in 1983 and was the most popular animation film aired by TV stations at that time.
Due to limited conditions and other reasons at that time, introduced Japanese animation films didn’t show on the theatre screens. Instead, they were showed on televisions. Thus, the films dubbed by the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio and showed on 14-inch black-and-white TV became the classical childhood memories of a generation of Chinese audiences.
In the 1980s, China introduced a series of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation films, including LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY (天空之城 in Chinese), NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (风之谷 in Chinese) and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (龙猫 in Chinese). For several generations of Chinese audiences, Hayao Miyazaki’s animation films take them to a new fantasy and imaginary journey and exert great influence in China.
Later, AFFECTIONS TOUCHING ACROSS TIME–the first movie edition of Japanese classical animation volumes INUYASHA was screened in Mainland China in summer of 2001.
DORAEMON: NOBITA’S DINOSAUR swept a wave of sensations on Japanese animation films in China. Later, DORAEMON: NOBITA’S NEW GREAT ADVENTURE INTO THE UNDERWORLD – THE SEVEN MAGIC USERS and DORAEMON THE MOVIE: NOBITA AND THE GREEN GIANT LEGEND were screened successively, earning a high reputation in China, of which DORAEMON THE MOVIE: NOBITA AND THE GREEN GIANT LEGEND earned the highest box office of the year, reaching RMB5.9 million.
ASTRO BOY screened in 2009 was adapted from the comic of the same name by “the father of manga”—Osamu Tezuka. This is also the first time for Astro going to the big screen in a 3D image. This film is co-produced by China, the USA and Japan. Apart from reminiscence, this film adopted Hollywood animation production methods and finally earned the box office revenues of RMB46.6 million in China.
“Conan” is a large animation brand in China and owns a large number of Chinese fans. In 2010, DETECTIVE CONAN: THE RAVEN CHASER—the thirteenth movie installment of the Detective Conan manga and anime series was screened domestically. It is the first Conan movie episode aired in China. As the subsequent work of Conan movie series, the DETECTIVE CONAN: THE RAVEN CHASER was not well responded among audiences. However, thanks to Conan’s brand reputation, this film earned the box office revenues of RMB9.365 million in China. Later, China introduced Conan films, including DETECTIVE CONAN: QUARTER OF SILENCE, DETECTIVE CONAN: SUNFLOWERS OF INFERNO and DETECTIVE CONAN: THE DARKEST NIGHTMARE, earning the box office revenues of RMB27.683 million, RMB81.625 million and RMB31.034 million, respectively. DETECTIVE CONAN: THE DARKEST NIGHTMARE aired the last year didn’t do well in terms of box office and word-of-mouth. This is because the quality of Conan films is compromised, while other Japanese animation films increasingly gain popularity in China.
Apart from Conan, another classical image Ultraman has entered Chinese film market. MEGA MONSTER BATTLE: ULTRA GALAXY LEGENDS aired in China in 2011 and ULTRAMAN ZERO: THE REVENGE OF BELIAL screened in China in 2012 are both Ultraman film series, earning the box office revenues of RMB28.966 million and RMB19.548 million in China, respectively.
STAND BY ME DORAEMON aired in 2015 created a miracle of Japanese animation films in the Chinese market. This film was screened during the Children’s Day of 2015, earning the box office of RMB27 million on the first day and finally achieving RMB530 million. Thanks to its outstanding performance, Japanese animation films cause a sensation in China.
2016 was a “blowout” year for Japanese animation films entering the Chinese market. Ten Japanese animation films aired in China, including BORUTO -NARUTO THE MOVIE, SAINT SEIYA: LEGEND OF SANCTUARY, DORAEMON: NOBITA AND THE BIRTH OF JAPAN, PARASYTE (combined the two in China), CHIBI MARUKO-CHAN: ITALIA KARA KITA SHŌNEN, DRAGON BALL Z: RESURRECTION ‘F’, CRAYON SHIN-CHAN: FAST ASLEEP! DREAMING WORLD BIG ASSAULT!, ONE PIECE FILM GOLD, DETECTIVE CONAN: THE DARKEST NIGHTMARE and YOUR NAME.
Among them, YOUR NAME hit the box office record in China at RMB576 million. It is an originally produced Japanese animation film. After being screened for five months in Japan, it surpassed SPIRITED AWAY and became the highest grossing Japanese film with global box office of USD 281 million (JPY31.8 billion ) in the world’s box office record. It is also the first animation by the Studio Ghibli jumping to the box-office championship reaching 10 billion. After YOUR NAME generated a wave in Japan, it becomes the highest-grossing Japanese animation film in Mainland China.
Of the Japanese animated films introduced last year, ONE PIECE FILM GOLD ranked the second with a box office of RMB107 million in the Chinese Mainland in 2016, and DORAEMON: NOBITA AND THE BIRTH OF JAPAN ranked the third, closely followed by BORUTO -NARUTO THE MOVIE with a box office of RMB103 million. However, the other Japanese animated films recorded an average box office. Following the great popularity last year, Chinese theaters are still enthusiastic to import Japanese animated films.
This year, we have observed the introduction of four films, including A DORAEMON: NOBITA’S ANTARCTIC ICE ADVENTURE in the first half of the year as well as films aired in the summer season, including GIN TAMA and A SILENT VOICE and SWORD ART ONLINE THE MOVIE: ORDINAL SCALE. However, only A DORAEMON: NOBITA’S ANTARCTIC ICE ADVENTURE has recorded a box office above RMB100 million, GIN TAMA has gained a box office of RMB81,242,000, and the others have not performed very well.
Yet, Chinese cinemas are still anxious to import Japanese animated films and plan to introduce four films this year. These films include FIREWORKS, DETECTIVE CONAN: LOVE LETTER and HIRUNE HIME: SHIRANAI WATASHI NO MONOGATARI, but no concrete schedule has been made.
A surge of best-selling Japanese animated films have set a new benchmark
In 2015, Doraemon, known as a “Blue Fatty” triggered a blue hurricane in the Chinese film market. STAND BY ME DORAEMON, a 3D animated film, reaped a box office of RMB27,115,000 on the premiere day and a film schedule rate of 26.6% (the highest on the day). At the same time, the producer has highlighted “reminiscence”, and invited Liu Chunyan, a hostess of the Kids show of CCTV known as “Scarab” to dub the film again. The producer has initiated an extensive online marketing campaign and taken the sentiments of the film to a climax. After coming on the screen in the summer season, the film has harvested a daily box office of up to RMB88,173,000 on the third day after premiere and reaped a total box office above RMB100 million three days after premiere, more than RMB200 million four days after premiere and more than RMB500 million nearly 20 days after premiere. With such an excellent performance, it has overtaken BIG HERO and ranked the second by box office among foreign animated films at that time, ranking the sixth by box office in the films China imported in the first half of 2015.
Later next year, YOUR NAME, an animated film directed by Makoto Shinkai made a premiere in December. Based on very good word of mouth in Japan, the film was nominated as a candidate for the best long animated film at the Oscar Award that year. As a result, the film attracted much attention in China after it was confirmed to land in China. Moreover, YOUR NAME is one of the best films that have set an example for film marketing in the Chinese Mainland. The director Makoto Shinkai himself boosted the roadshow and the producer also introduced novel actions to make the film aware. For example, the producer has launched a filter software product in the same name, announced a warm advertising slogan and invited the Mayday band to produce a music television video for the film. These actions have triggered one climax after another to promote the film.
Moreover, YOUR NAME reaped a box office of RMB76,292,000 on the first day and more than RMB100 million on the second day after premiere, accompanied by a schedule ratio of up to 35.2% and an audience rating of 40% at peak. The film has brought a surprise in the year and fought its way out of the tight encirclement, though it coincided with a series of illusionary films produced by Hollywood such as FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM and MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.
After premiere, YOUR NAME has started creating one record after another. On the very evening of premiere, the film successively broke the record for the zero point film record and the presale record for 2D films, and harvested a box office of more than RMB100 million on the second day after show, thereby becoming the 2D animated film that has fastest recorded a box office of more than RMB100 million. Afterwards, the film successfully realized a box office above RMB200 million at zero point on the third day and thus became the first 2D animated film that has achieved a box office of more than RMB100 million on the first day. Moreover, the film harvested a box office of up to RMB289 million by the end of the first week and created a record of its kind. At the same time, the film has become the first Japanese film that has extended the schedule and hit a new high with a box office of RMB576 million for Japanese films shown in China.
At the same time, the film has attracted rising scores on different websites. It has got a score of 9.4 marks on Maoyan.com and outperformed 99% of the films, and 86.3% of the netizens have given 9-10 marks. On Movie.douban.com, the score is 8.8marks and 53.4% of the netizens have given a full score of 5 marks. It has attracted a score as high as 8.9 marks on IMDb and achieved a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% and a score of 8.3 marks.
Besides great popularity, the film has kindled the enthusiasms of netizens to display their creative ideas – they have designed a series of funny posters under the theme of YOUR NAME: “Your Name Dialect Version”, “Killing Matt Version”, “Your Express Delivery”, “Your Examination”, and so on. Many advertisers have quickly launched marketing campaigns amid great popularity of the film, with wallpapers portraying the characters in the film and live dynamic wallpapers sweeping across social media. The director Makoto Shinkai has also stepped out of the quadratic element circle and become a well-known animation director. Moreover, many high-quality Wechat public accounts have interpreted the film in depth and analyzed the “explosion” of the film.
Japanese animated films have caught the eyeballs of more and more Chinese cinemas and audience, helped by the great success of several Japanese films such as STAND BY ME DORAEMON and YOUR NAME. This year, we will see a new surge to introduce Japanese animated films but as judged from the current market performance, these films look a little sluggish. Therefore, many Chinese film insiders are now thinking how to introduce Japanese animated films and how to appropriately position and market them after introduction.
Over the past four decades, Japanese animated films have seen both surprise and confusion as well as growth and problems that come together in the Chinese market. Yet, it is without doubt that the introduction of Japanese animated films is starting a new stage.