Locally-made films, especially animated titles, dominated the Japanese box office in 2021. The territory is usually the world’s third biggest cinema market, behind China and North America.
Though official figures compiled by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren), will be not be announced until next month, numbers from the Pick Scene movie rankings and box office site show “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time” as the year’s top earning film with a gross of $90 million following its March 8 release. A sci-fi anime written and directed by Anno Hideaki and produced by Anno’s Studio Khara, it is the fourth and final film in his “Rebuild of Evangelion” film series, which is part of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise.
All of the top-three earning films in Japan this year are animations, including number two “Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet” ($67.5 million), the latest iteration of the “Detective Conan” teen-detective mystery franchise. Third was “Belle” ($58 million), a sci-fi fantasy by anime maestro Hosoda Mamoru. This is only the second time since 2000 that anime titles have dominated the top three.
The highest-ranking non-Japanese film, in eighth, is “F9: The Fast Saga,” which earned $32 million for distributor Toho-Towa. Only five Hollywood titles made the JPY1 billion ($8.8 million) that is the traditional marker of a commercial hit in Japan, with both Disney and Marvel titles turning in disappointing numbers.
Of the top ten films, five were released or co-released by perennial industry leader Toho. Warner Bros. was the top foreign distributor, but with both its top ten titles being Japanese productions: fourth ranked “Tokyo Revengers” ($39 million) and fifth-placed “Rurouni Kenshin The Final” ($38 million).
“Simultaneous releases in theaters and on streaming platforms or shorter gaps between theatrical and streaming releases have given viewers a wider range of choices,” box office analyst Otaka Hiroo told Variety. “One result has been an accelerating decline of interest in seeing not just of Disney but all Hollywood movies (in theaters).” This year Otaka expects the market share of Japanese films to finish at 80%, compared with 76% last year.
This showing is weaker compared to 2020, when three Hollywood films made it into the MPPAJ’s official top ten, and pre-pandemic 2019, when six of the top ten films were Hollywood releases.
According to Otaka, aggregate box office for 2021 will be in $1.36 billion – $1.4 billion range, representing an increase of perhaps 120% over 2020. That is still only about 60% of the total for pre-pandemic 2019.
“The pandemic has had a big impact on box office this year,” Otaka commented. “But there have been no nationwide theater shutdowns like last year’s, so the effect has been slightly less (than in 2020).”
Looking ahead to 2022, Otaka says “There are more big, attention-grabbing Hollywood films coming out next year, compared to 2021. I expect a Hollywood rebound.”