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FEATURE: Anime "Demon Slayer" helps Japan cinema industry fight pandemic blues

10/23/2020 | 02:18am EST

An animated movie based on the blockbuster "Demon Slayer" manga series has broken box-office records on its debut, giving a major boost to Japan's cinema industry as it seeks to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The movie from anime studio Ufotable Inc. drew an audience of 3.4 million in the first three days since its Oct. 16 premiere and box-office sales of 4.62 billion yen ($43.76 million), co-distributors Aniplex Inc. and Toho Co. said.

The tale of an adolescent boy fighting human-eating demons in a Japan of about 100 years ago is based on a manga series by Koyoharu Gotoge. The 22 volumes published so far have racked up a circulation of over 100 million copies, including in e-book form, according to publisher Shueisha Inc.

The movie, entitled "Demon Slayer -- Kimetsu no Yaiba -- The Movie: Mugen Train" and directed by Haruo Sotozaki, is a sequel to an anime television series that aired in Japan last year, with the same cast and staff.

Its English-dubbed and subtitled versions are slated to hit the big screens in North America in early 2021, after a similar launch in Taiwan from Oct. 30, according to Aniplex.

The TV series, dubbed in eight languages and subtitled in 13, is also being streamed online in about 110 countries, it said.

The three-day box office tally in Japan is more than double the equivalent sales of 1.94 billion yen for "Frozen II" from Walt Disney Animation Studios and 1.64 billion yen for "Weathering With You" ("Tenki no Ko") by Japanese animator and filmmaker Makoto Shinkai. "Weathering With You" eventually came out on top in Japan last year, helping 2019 to see record total box-office revenues.

"The power of the animation was amazing," said Natsumi Sato, 32, who was among the very first audience members to see "Demon Slayer" at a Toho Cinemas complex in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district.

The cinema group decided to lift its self-imposed limit on theater capacity for the first three days of the film's run, but Sato said seats weren't packed and she was unconcerned about infection risks from the coronavirus as the theater's multiple screens showed it simultaneously.

The story, which first appeared in manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump in February 2016, starts with the hero, Tanjiro Kamado, returning home from a night away only to find a bloodbath due to a demon attack on his home.

All his family members have been slaughtered except for his younger sister Nezuko, who narrowly escaped when she was transformed into a demon herself. Hoping to find a way to turn her back into a human, Tanjiro joins a vigilante corps of demon slayers.

The movie features just one set of adventures from the long-running series -- the hero's efforts to save the lives of passengers aboard the "Mugen Train," named after the Japanese word for infinity, where countless people have gone missing.

Its popularity is expected to help mitigate the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cinema industry, which has seen the screenings of many big-name films postponed.

According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, the box office receipts of 12 major movie distributors combined were just 3.7 percent of the figure a year earlier in April and 1.1 percent in May as Japan spent much of the two months under a state of emergency for the coronavirus.

Although movie theaters were allowed from mid-May to gradually reopen from areas with limited infections, sales recovered to just over 30 percent of the level a year before in July and August, it said.

Even after theaters were finally allowed on Sept. 19 to fill all seats, Toho Cinemas and many other theaters kept their audiences to half of capacity or less, since a condition for fully opening theaters was prohibiting moviegoers from carrying in food. But Toho opened all its seats for the film's first three days.

A Toho Cinemas complex in Tokyo's Shinjuku district showed it 42 times in total on the first day, using 11 of its 12 screens and opening its doors from 6 a.m. to past midnight. Its merchandise space was packed with crowds from early in the day.

"I woke up at 5 a.m. to come here. I want to see the next production because this was so delightful," said Tamiko Ito, 40, a Tokyo resident who watched a 7 a.m. screening before heading to work.

The story runs much longer in the manga series than the plot covered in the anime and movie. The manga's 22nd volume was published this month, with the 23rd and final volume slated for release on Dec. 4. English versions have been launched for up to 17 volumes.

"I knew its ending but couldn't fight back my tears." said one 27-year-old man who watched the film with an acquaintance. "It's too bad I have to go to work now and can't discuss the movie with my friend."


© Kyodo News International, Inc., source Newswire

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