South Korea Box Office: Japan's 'Your Name' Tops Charts Amid Political Tensions

Courtesy of Toho
'Your Name'

Director Makoto Shinkai calls the animated feature's success — a rare Japanese hit in South Korea — "hard to believe."

Your Name has achieved a rare success for a Japanese film in South Korea in light of bitter historical conflicts between the two Asian countries, with the animated feature topping the local box office over the Jan. 6-8 weekend.

During its first weekend in cinemas, the acclaimed teenage body-swap drama – distributed by Megabox Plus M – scooped up 31.4 percent of the market share, earning $8.1 million according to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database.

The animation's successful debut eclipsed Master, the local crime actioner from CJ Entertainment that topped charts for two straight weeks. Starring The Magnificent Seven's Lee Byung-hun, the film accounted for 21.5 percent of the share for a gross total of $44 million. Passengers, which brought in 13.3 percent of sales for a cume $3.5 million, took third spot.

Also among the top five were other foreign animated features: Sing, which claimed fourth with 6.5 percent for total earnings of $10.2 million, and Russia's The Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice, which accounted for 5.9 percent with a haul of $1.5 million.

Your Name is expected to continue performing strongly as it dominates advanced ticket sales, which stood at about 26 percent as of Monday evening — way ahead of Masterwhich trailed with 7.9 percent.

The anime film's strong performance here has been noted by onlookers near and far, especially given escalating political tensions between Korea and Japan. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945, and remnants of the bitter past are deeply rooted among many nationals. In particular, the issue of Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II — euphemistically known as "comfort women" — remains a sensitive issue here, and a recent turn of events over the topic resulted in Tokyo recalling the Japanese ambassador to Seoul on Friday.

Japanese cultural imports were banned in South Korea until the 1990s and the Busan International Film Festival — Korea's largest film event that was launched in 1994 — made headlines when it showed Japanese films in its early editions. It was in Busan last year where Your Name made its Korean premiere, and has since been positively received by local critics. Ironically, recent diplomatic tensions arose after Korean civic groups installed a "comfort woman" statue in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan in December.

The writer-director of Your Name, Makoto Shinkai, has called the film's rave reception here hard to believe.

"It's truly unbelievable. I am extremely grateful," he said during an interview with local radio station SBS Power FM, adding that he would keep a previously made promise with Korean fans to return to the country should the film cross 3 million admissions. Local industry watchers primarily rank films in terms of admissions, and Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki remains the most successful Japanese film in Korea to date with a total 3 million admissions in 2004.

Many expect that Shinkai will have to keep his word, with Your Name already nearing 1.2 million admissions after just four days. The film's success makes it one of the top five best-selling animated features in Korean cinema history, alongside the three Kung Fu Panda titles, Frozen and Howl's Moving Castle.