Imax, Japan's Toho Sign Five Movie Slate Deal (Exclusive)

WIE_Megan Colligan - Publicity - H 2019
Frank Ishman/Courtesy of subject

Imax is already seeing returns with Toho's 'Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train' as the Japanese box office breaks records.

Imax and Toho Co., the Japanese film giant that also runs the nation's largest movie theater chain, have signed a five movie slate deal in an Asian market breaking box office records while the North American theatrical market struggles.

Financial terms of the film output deal with Toho to run through 2021 were not disclosed, but the local language slate deal for Japan marks the biggest yet for the giant screen exhibitor outside of Hollywood.

Imax screens in Japan have already been filled since last week with Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, the anime adaptation from Toho that broke local box office records last weekend with a $44 million 3-day gross -- including $2.3 million from play on 38 Imax screens.

Megan Colligan, president of Imax Entertainment and executive vp of Imax, told The Hollywood Reporter that Japan's booming box office was proof film lovers will return to the local multiplex when they are assured it's safe to do so, and that North Americans and Europeans will eventually also return in big numbers to their local movie theater down the road.

"It's super clear that people are going back to cinemas in a really robust way and it's a story we saw many times over in China, we saw some proof points in Korea and are now seeing in Japan," Colligan argued.

Imax's latest slate deal includes Toho's upcoming release Stand By Me Doraemon 2 -- the sequel to the 2014 CG anime film Stand by Me Doraemon -- and another three film releases to be announced.

Besides delivering box office returns, Demon Slayer has also allowed Imax to offset the current dearth of Hollywood tentpoles it can play in that Asian market. Japan is home to the world's third-largest national box office, so a bounce back there offers a key step toward in getting the global theatrical sector back on track.

China's theatrical market is enjoying its own post-COVID-19 recovery box office boom as the local war epic The Sacrifice opened to $53 million over the weekend, helping to extend China's lead over North America as the biggest theatrical market of 2020.

But Colligan argued the Toho deal aims more at increasing the number of local-language films Imax can show on its screens as part of its ongoing worldwide expansion beyond North America. "This deal precedes COVID and we're anxious to get to releasing these titles. Toho is a really important for us, and local language content in a place like Japan is really important," she explained.

And while supporting the local language film market in Japan is key for Imax, Colligan is open to Toho titles possibly playing on its screens in other international markets.

Here the Toho deal may allow Imax a crack at the next Parasite, Bong Joon Ho's South Korean satire that became the first non-English-language best picture at the Oscars and opened the door for other local language movies to also dominate the global theatrical market.

Here the Japanese film slate deal cements ties between Imax and Toho that date back to 2014 and the box office success of Transformers: Age of Extinction and Godzilla on Imax screens in Japan.

“We have been deepening a trusting relationship with Imax since 2016’s Shin-Godzilla release, and I am confident to say that our partnership has further strengthened with the release of Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train released on Friday, Oct. 16,” Yoshishige Shimatani, president of Toho said in a statement.

In 2019, Imax and Toho partnered on the animated movie Weathering With You, which became the highest grossing Japanese language film in the Imax format, earning $7.7 million in box office.

That was before Weathering With You also secured distribution in China and other Asian markets. Colligan points to Demon Slayer having got to $102 million at the Japanese box office in its second week of ticket sales as it generates buzz in the global market.

"It (Demon Slayer) will continue to sustain itself for some period of time and I know this movie will travel outside Japan and we'll see it go to other markets. For us, it's about making sure we align with the right kind of creative talent like Toho," Colligan said.

Toho’s exhibition arm, Toho Cinemas, brought its first Imax screen to the Shinjuku region of Tokyo in 2014. Last month, the Japanese theater chain opened an Imax theater in Tachikawa, Tokyo, bringing the total number of Imax theaters for Toho Cinemas in Japan to eight.

Last year, Imax set a record at the Japanese box office with $62 million in ticket receipts with titles like Weathering With You and Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the company's highest grossing release ever in Japan with $14 million.