Japanese animated film smashes box office despite Covid

Julian Ryall
·3-min read
A sign of a movie based on popular Japanese manga "Demon Slayer" - Kyodo News Stills 
A sign of a movie based on popular Japanese manga "Demon Slayer" - Kyodo News Stills

While cinemas around the world have been shut down for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, an animated Japanese movie is playing to full houses and is shattering domestic box office records. 

The film, “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train”, is based on a best-selling manga and its release had been eagerly awaited by fans as well as a movie industry keen to get people back into cinemas. 

The response, however, has come as something of a surprise - particularly given that the coronavirus is still very much on people’s minds. 

More than 3.4 million people - almost 3 per cent of the entire population of Japan - braved the possibility of being exposed to the virus over the opening weekend of the film. It took £33.78 million at the box office in its first three days, far beyond expectations, and more than double the previous record, for “Frozen 2”. 

Those figures made it the biggest movie opening in the world last weekend, although the competition is thin at the moment as Hollywood studios continue to push back the release of their big-budget titles.

The film tells the tale of a young boy who battles demons in Japan in the early 1900s and is based in a manga series that sold more than 100 million copies during its publication between 2016 and 2020. An animated television series has also proved popular. 

Japanese movie-goers appear to have been emboldened by the coronavirus effectively flat-lining, but they also admit they are tired of not being able to do all the things they used to enjoy before the pandemic. 

“I was a little concerned, but my daughter really wanted to see the film so I thought we could go if we were careful”, said Fumio Takenaka, a 48-year-old housewife from Yokohama. 

No major outbreaks of the virus have been traced to a cinema - Kyodo News Stills 
No major outbreaks of the virus have been traced to a cinema - Kyodo News Stills

The Burg 13 cinema where she went to see “Demon Slayer” with her 7-year-old daughter, Ayano, was taking plenty of precautions, she said. 

Everyone was required to wear a mask at all times and had their temperature taken before they were permitted to enter the auditorium, she said. Bottles of sanitising liquid were at each entrance and no-one was allowed to eat, although drinks were permitted. Announcements before the film reiterated the rules, while another message from the management of the cinema reassured viewers that extractor fans were constantly replacing the air in the auditorium. 

No major outbreaks of the virus have been traced to a cinema and industry groups have been keen to play up the safeguards that have been introduced. 

“I was less nervous when I saw all the precautions”, Mrs Takenaka told The Telegraph. “But everyone who was there was also very good at following the rules and being considerate about other people”. 

Those same courtesies are visible in everyday life in Japan, where it is highly unusual to see someone in a public place not wearing a face mask. 

To date, Japan has reported 94,014 cases of coronavirus in a nation of 126.5 million people. A total of 615 new infections were reported nationwide on Friday, with most cases in the urban sprawl of Tokyo. Nine people died of the virus on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,694. 

The Japanese government is also clearly pleased at another sign that life is returning to something approaching normality for the public. 

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of overseeing Japan’s economic revitalisation, described the film in a Twitter message as “A spectacular achievement for the worlds of culture and entertainment as they struggle with the coronavirus”.