TOKYO – “Demon Slayer,” the film adaptation of the manga series “Kimetsu no Yaiba,” has become the highest-grossing movie in Japan in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The animated film has grossed 32.47 billion yen ($313 million) since its release two and a half months ago, according to data published on Monday by the film’s distributor, Toho.
The gross earning comes in a year when the industry’s revenue is expected to hit a record low due to an unprecedented economic disruption caused by the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease.
More than 24 million people have flocked to the theaters to see the movie about a boy fighting human-eating demons or “oni” that murdered most of his family.
According to a psychologist, Yuka Ijima, an assistant professor at Daito Bunka University, who has written a book about the franchise, the film’s success lies in a remarkable adaptation of an anime television series produced by Ufotable studio and aired in Japan in 2019.
At a recent briefing on the film, Ijima said the studio had done a fantastic job.
Ijima said while the manga has a darker feel, with very intense fights, the anime is more glamorous and the fights more spectacular.
The story in itself is good, with characters, situations, and problems with which one can empathize, Ijima said.
While the manga’s author, Koyoharu Gotouge, nicely portrays sibling bonds, the anime highlighted it even more to give it a dramatic effect, she added.
Following its TV debut, the series streamed online platforms, including Netflix.
Then came an unexpected development which, according to Ijima, was critical for it to become a mass phenomenon: the pandemic.
Ijima said the film was initially only seen by young people, but with the advent of restrictions due to the virus, adults began to see it as well, and parents began to share the experience with their children.
Only one season of the animated series has been made at the moment, which adapts the first six volumes of the manga (out of a total of 23).
People who liked the anime wanted to know what would happen next, so they went out to buy the comics.
When the series premiered in Japan in April 2019, the number of copies sold was 4.5 million. By the time it ended six months later, that number had risen to 12 million.
In February of this year, it reached 40 million, and in July, when the film was scheduled to be released after being pushed back from spring to 80 million.
The film finally hit Japanese theaters on Oct. 16. By that time, more than 120 million copies of the manga had been sold putting it in a select group of 17 Japanese comics that have sold more than 100 million copies.
The movie’s premiere coincided with the promotion of tourist programs such as “Go To” in the country, when people felt they were free to step out after months of containment, so they went to watch the film.
Also contributing to the film’s success was a marketing strategy that includes the distribution of exclusive and limited-edition products for those who come to the theaters and encourages them to come again to watch the movie, including Ijima herself.
“Demon Slayer” claims the top spot from another anime, “Spirited Away,” Studio Ghibli’s 2001 hit, which was re-released in movie theaters along with three other classics from the studio.
The film’s box-office record is also remarkable in a year in which minimum revenue is expected in theaters across the country due to COVID-19.
According to data by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, less than 870 million yen had been recorded until November, which indicates the lowest year-on-year increase in two decades.