National-holiday-studded Golden Week, which runs from April 29 to May 5, has long been a peak movie-going period, especially for vacationing schoolkids and their families. But this year, with a state of emergency looming for Tokyo and Osaka, as well as two prefectures adjacent to Japan’s second-largest city, box office prospects look less than bright.
Last year, following an April 7 state of emergency declaration covering the Tokyo and Osaka metro areas, entertainment businesses, including theaters, began shutting down. By the time they started reopening, in mid-May, Golden Week had come and gone with a total box office of approximately zero.
This year, the situation may not be so dire, but on Tuesday Toho Cinemas, which operates the country’s biggest theater chain, announced that, starting on Friday, it would only sell same-day tickets at the box office and online, with a few exceptions. Two smaller chains – the Cinema Sunshine Group and the Theater Cinema Group – made similar announcements, as did other theaters. Their purpose is to limit refunds in case reduced operating hours are suddenly mandated.
Also, major Hollywood titles are conspicuous by their absence. The Golden Week line-up of Toho, Japan’s biggest distributor, features family-friendly domestic fare like the latest installments of the Detective Conan (April 16, 2021) and Crayon Shinchan (Friday) anime series, as well as “Aya and the Witch” (April 29), the first full 3D CG animation by Studio Ghibli. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of anime maestro Hayao, the film was first shown by public broadcaster NHK in December last year.
Also, after a year-long postponement, Warner Bros. will be releasing the two concluding entries in the five-part Rurouni Kenshin saga about a feudal-era assassin (Sato Takeru) who has a change of heart and vows to subdue, not kill, his opponents. “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final” bows on Friday and “Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning,” which relates the origin story of the series, on June 4.
Meanwhile, “Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train,” the mega-hit animation that rewrote local box office records following its release in October of last year, is projected to reach the JPY40 billion ($370 million) milestone sometime during Golden Week, with an announcement by distributor Toho expected on May 10. As of April 19, the film had earned JPY39.7 billion ($367 million) on 28.76 million admissions.
Yet unknown, however, is how many fans will be able – and willing —to visit theaters with the pandemic still raging, during a holiday whose name has started to sound bitterly ironic.