How ‘Yo-Kai Watch’ beat ‘Star Wars’ at the box office in Japan


Special To The Japan Times

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.

  • Don Corleone

    Not surprised – not everyone in the world likes Star Wars. As for the Japanese audiences, perhaps there weren’t enough girls with perfect bodies in micro-mini skirts or maybe it was the lack of diabetically sweet animated characters. But definitely a cultural thing, most foreign movies are like this.

  • Jonathan Fields

    Has Star Wars ever really been popular in Japan? I had sort of forgotten it was coming out when a guy at my work mentioned he wanted to see it. On a whim I hopped online and bought a pair of tickets to the showing at a major shopping center near my home in Osaka. The theater was about 3/4 full and most of the people there were nerdy guys in Star Wars shirts and fat foreigners. I found out after the movie that it was opening day. Not a great sign that I, a very casual fan who bought his tickets the day of, was able to secure good seats for opening day.

  • For a movie to make it big in Japan is a matter of visual taste and cultural and linguistic barriers. In a nutshell if Japanese perceive movie characters as cool/kawaii/sexy it will have some measure of success. Take for example Disney’s Big Hero 6 that was called BayMax in Japan cause of it’s chubby and hug-ble robot protagonist. Merchandise were flying off shelves and you can even find it in Family Mart and Lawson stations. Not sure how and why American Sniper was popular in Japanese theaters but I’m willing to bet it was Bradley Cooper’s cool and sexy gaijin looks.