Japan's Box Office Fell 45 Percent to $1.38 Billion in 2020

Demon Slayer

'Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train'

Thanks to the chaos COVID-19 has wrought on Hollywood release schedules, U.S. films took their lowest share of Japan's box office in modern times. Western movies brought in just $328 million, down 71 percent.

The Japanese box office plummeted more than 45 percent in 2020 after the novel coronavirus pandemic briefly shuttered cinemas in the country and weighed on moviegoing throughout much of the year.

Total ticket sales revenue clocked in at $1.38 billion (143.3 billion yen), down from $2.39 billion (261 billion yen) in 2019, which had set an all-time record.

The results place Japan just behind North America, which had $2.3 billion in sales, as the world's third-biggest theatrical film territory. For the first time ever, China, which made a rapid recovery from the pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2020, assumed the top spot, generating $3.13 billion in ticket sales.

But even though Japan ranked third overall, the country's box office held up markedly better in the face of the pandemic than the larger U.S. and Chinese markets. North America's ticket revenue crashed 70 percent compared with the previous year, while China's slid 68.2 percent.

Thanks to the chaos COVID-19 has wrought on Hollywood release schedules, U.S. films took their lowest share of Japan's box office in modern times in 2020. Western movies, the bulk of the U.S. studio releases, brought in just $328 million (34 billion yen), down 71 percent from $1.09 billion (119 billion yen) the year prior, which was the highest figure since 2004.

Japan's cinemas began shutting down in mid-April 2020 after the Tokyo government declared a national emergency in response to the country's first major wave of novel coronavirus infections. By mid-May, though, major Japanese multiplexes were staging a cautious reopening, albeit with some social distancing and sanitary requirements in place. Cinema operators then got a big boost from the blockbuster performance of local anime favorite Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train. Produced by Tokyo-based studio Ubisoft, the film set a new all-time record for Japan's box office, earning $352.5 million (36.55 billion yen). Adapted from a hit manga and television anime series, the blockbuster overtook Hayao Miyazaki's beloved classic Spirited Away (2001), which had sat atop the all-time charts for two decades with a total haul of 31.68 billion yen.

Hollywood's biggest new release in Japan last year was Warner Bros' Tenet with a modest $26.3 million. Bragging rights for the biggest new non-Japanese release went to Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, which brought in $45.7 million.

Despite the challenging year, global distributors will take heart in the fact that Japan's total movie screen count actually increased slightly in 2020, suggesting that a robust theatrical rebound should be achievable as the pandemic eventually fades. According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, the country had 3,616 screens in operation in 2020, up from 3,583 screens in 2019.

‘Demon Slayer’ Overtakes ‘Spirited Away’ to Become Japan’s Biggest Box Office Hit Ever