Japan Box Office Falls by (Only) 45% in 2020, Data Shows

Theatrical box office takings in Japan fell by 45% in 2020, compared with the previous year, as coronavirus took its toll on cinemagoing. But that makes Japan one of the most resilient major box office territories.

Data published Wednesday by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren) show that total box office was $1.37 billion (JPY143 billion) 45% down on 2019’s $2.5 billion (JPY261 billion). Admissions were down a similar 45%, weighing in at 106 million in 2020, compared with 195 million in 2019.

Estimates published at the end of December by multi-territory agency Comscore, showed other major territories plummeted by between 57% and 76% in 2020.

Particularly hard hit were foreign films, which earned a combined $326 million in the entire year – a fall of 71%. By comparison, Japanese films held up strongly, earning $1.04 billion, down just 21% on 2019.

The big reason behind the relatively robust number for local content was the megahit animation “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train,” which topped the year’s box office with $350 million. This one film accounted for 25% of the full year box office, and 33% of the business done by Japanese-made movies.

The biggest foreign hit, with $70 million, was “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which opened in Japan in December of 2019, and played into early 2020, but well before the pandemic forced the closure of theaters in April. The country’s national government does not have the power to compel cinema closures, but nearly all venues observed the regime’s call for cooperation.

A total of 21 local and four foreign films earned JPY1 billion ($9.6 million) or more, which is the accepted mark of a commercial hit in the Japanese market. Most opened either over the 2019/2020 New Year’s season, or after theaters resumed normal (non-socially-distanced) seating in September.

“Demon Slayer,” which was released in October by Toho and Aniplex, especially benefitted from this fortuitous timing, as well as from the absence of Hollywood competition. “Tenet” (BO: $27.3 million) was a prominent exception, having delayed its release from spring until Sept. 18, 2020 in Japan.

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