The Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” is still doing big business in Japan, long after its November release. The movie recently crossed the ¥10 billion mark here, and its impact stretches well beyond box-office stats. Songs from the British band have taken up residence on streaming charts, while affection for the film has been prominent on TV variety and chat shows.
The film’s stadium-sized success shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. Beyond being a pleasant narrative centered around one of the biggest bands in pop history, “Bohemian Rhapsody” taps into trends that have helped push Western music up in Japan, though it has often lagged behind in recent years.
Over the past decade, music from the U.S. and the U.K. has lost significant sales ground here. It wasn’t long ago that artists such as Mariah Carey and Avril Lavigne could dominate the Oricon charts, but in the 2010s success has been strictly limited to the upper echelons of pop royalty. Consumers have opted for Japanese artists, while Korean pop acts have taken the mantle of the top non-Japanese performers in the nation, even with politics threatening to throw a spanner in the works.
There has been one exception — movie soundtracks, especially ones with theatrical flair. The best-selling digital album in Japan for 2018 was “The Greatest Showman,” an all-together-now set starring Hugh Jackman that was a national sensation. Songs from “Frozen” and “La La Land” have also triumphed on various Japanese charts, while the rap-heavy soundtrack for “The Fate of the Furious” shone despite being dominated by acts with next to no footprint here.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” benefits from revolving around one of the world’s most celebrated acts and a big dollop of nostalgia — a fact that has helped made it a worldwide hit, even as director Bryan Singer faces sexual assault allegations — but it doesn’t hurt that Queen’s music has always had a theatrical side.
It’s also interactive. Some Japanese movie theaters hold sing-a-long screenings of the film, and one writer said the attraction to these karaoke-like sessions was the chance for younger folks to make their “wish of interacting with the band come true.” It’s a trend pioneered in Japan by anime, where films for series such as “King Of Prism” held similarly noisy viewings meant to get fans more involved. It turns a passive media experience into an active one.
With so many entertainment options swirling around Japan in 2019, music can easily get lost in the crowd, especially since Western tunes are out of step with J-pop trends. The success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” reminds us that the best way to make inroads is to offer that extra something special — which nowadays is interactivity. Someone tell Peter Jackson to include some sing-alongs in his new Beatles documentary.