Thanks to a more timely and all-encompassing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan today has far fewer cases than the U.S. and many other countries, allowing Japanese citizens (masked, of course) to live comparably normal lives. Since September, that has translated to a relaxing of the restrictions and standards inherent to attending films at movie theaters, but there was still some question of whether filmgoers would really turn out in droves for new blockbuster releases. Well, that question has now been put to rest: The new anime film Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train debuted on Friday and grossed more than $44 million (4.623B yen) in Japan over the weekend, which translates to the biggest opening weekend in the history of the Japanese box office.
Suffice to say, these are shocking numbers for industry observers, likely reflecting a pent-up desire in the market to see films on the big screen, as well as a relative lack of competition—according to Deadline, Demon Slayer receipts accounted for a crazy 84% of all film admissions over the weekend. You can compare the $44 million mark, meanwhile, with last year’s Frozen 2 from Disney, which did $18.2 million over the same three day period to see just how big a deal Demon Slayer really is. The film also became the biggest IMAX opening in Japan ever, with $2.27 million on just 38 screens, surpassing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Demon Slayer had been highly anticipated in advance, with some local theaters beginning to screen the Haruo Sotozaki-directed film as early as 7 a.m. on Friday, and as many as 40 times per day. The anime is based on the original manga Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotoge, and was previously adapted into the Demon Slayer anime of the same name, which aired in Japan in 2019. The Mugen Train film is a sequel to that anime series, following up directly on its events, and will see a release in the U.S. via Funimation in 2021. According to Deadline: “The Demon Slayer story sees Tanjiro Kamado and friends from the Demon Slayer corps board the Infinity Train on a new mission to investigate a mysterious series of disappearances perpetrated by a demon who has been tormenting people and killing the demon slayers who oppose it.”
Regardless, the massive success of this film and Japan’s relative ability to get back to “normal” as the pandemic only continues to ramp up in the U.S. illustrates how woefully different things could likely be in America if our response to the coronavirus had been more serious and proactive. Instead, the American theatrical industry has been completely devastated, and even its planned summer reopening has largely fizzled out after the tepid response to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from audiences that were still (rightly) afraid to go sit in a theater with a bunch of other people. In response, the country’s second largest theater chain, Regal, has already shut down again entirely. Largest theater chain AMC, meanwhile, says its cash reserves will run out by the end of 2020 or early 2021, promising a devastated theater landscape whenever the U.S. finally manages to overcome the virus.