Japan Box Office Recovery Stalls in 2023 as Hollywood Titles Lose Favor

Japan’s cinema box office edged slightly forward in 2023 after a strong rebound in 2022, but the business remains at levels below record-breaking 2019, which was the last normal year before the COVID pandemic.

Annual figures were released on Tuesday by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (EIREN), with the ‘2023’ data idiosyncratically covering the period from the beginning of December 2022 to the end of November.

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Ticket sales grew by 2% from 152 million in 2022 to 155 million in 2023. Gross box office in local currency climbed by 4% from JPY213 billion to JPY221 billion. With the Japanese Yen languishing at multi-year lows that was equivalent to $1.5 billion in dollar terms.

The 2023 admissions figure is 20% below 2019’s 195 million. The 2023 gross box office total is 15% below 2019’s JPY261 trillion, which was also a time when the Japanese currency was worth vastly more against the American dollar.

The number of imported and local films arriving in Japanese cinemas was largely back to normal in 2022. And 2023 numbers – 676 local titles and 556 imported titles – were little changed. A total of 1,232 titles were released. That compares with 1,143 in 2022 and 1,278 in 2019.

The biggest change was the strong market share accounted for by local Japanese films in the last two years. In 2022 Japanese films accounted for 69% of grosses, a figure that edged down to 67% in 2023. Imported titles – largely meaning Hollywood movies – are 15 percentage points down on 2019, when the Japanese share was 54%.

The top-ranking film of the period was the Toei-distributed “The First Slam Dunk,” with a JPY15.9 billion ($108 million) total, ahead of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” a Hollywood movie with a strong Japanese pedigree and a JPY14.02 billion ($95.1 million) haul, and Toho’s “Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine” with JPY13.8 billion ($93.6 million)

Other top-performing Japanese films were “The Boy and the Heron” with JPY8.84 billion and “Kingdom: Flame of Destiny, with JPY5.60 billion. “Godzilla Minus One,” which had a November 2023 release date enjoyed JPY5.59 billion of revenue before the end of the period.

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” was the second highest-scoring Hollywood film with JPY5.43 billion ($36.8 million).

Notably absent is the ‘Barbenheimer’ pair which played strongly in the 2023 rankings of other countries. “Barbie” failed to make the top 50 titles in Japan, while “Oppenheimer” will release in March 2024.

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