As 2015 came to a close, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the movie on everyone’s lips, with fans dressed up in costumes and camping out to buy tickets, and a social media presence bigger than the Jabba the Hutt. Yet, despite breaking all box-office records on its opening weekend in the United States, the new “Star Wars” ranked only No. 2 in Japan (with more than 800,000 viewers), beaten to the top spot by “Yo-Kai Watch the Movie 2: King Enma and the 5 Stories, Nyan!,” which had almost 1 million viewers. A week later, this cheap and chirpy big-screen version of a Japanese kids cartoon derived from a Nintendo game kicked Jedi butt again.
So, the story would seem to be that anime still rules the domestic box office. A quick look at Japan’s top-grossing films in 2015 reveals that six out of 10 were animated movies (three of which were domestic), and anime topped the box office for 20 individual weeks with films like “Big Hero 6” and “Bakemono no Ko” (“The Boy and the Beast”) beating competition such as “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “Terminator: Genisys.”
Then again, opening weekend in Japan is still based on Saturday-Sunday figures. If the Friday opening revenue for “Star Wars” was included, the film would have beaten “Yokai Watch” by a good margin. The force finally prevailed and on week three of release, “Star Wars” is No. 1. It’s worth noting though that despite the graying of Japan, cinemas are scoring best with films aimed squarely at the pre-teen market; “American Sniper” was a rare 2015 hit driven by the over-50 demographic.