Japanese animated film “The First Slam Dunk” has taken a strong early lead at the mainland China box office, picking up $13.8 million on its Thursday opening day.
Films mostly release in China on Fridays, but the Japanese hit was given previews on Wednesday and a full court release on Thursday, starting with widespread midnight screenings.
Data from local firm Ent Group reveals that the film earned $3.16 million from some 14,000 preview screenings on Wednesday, followed by $13.8 million on Thursday from 184,000 screening sessions. That gives it a $17 million cumulative and positions it at the top of the box office chart even before the conventional Friday to Sunday weekend begins.
The Toei Animation film is directed by Inoue Takehiko and is adapted from his manga cartoon series about high school, youth romance, delinquency and sports. The cartoon was first published between 1990 and 1996, sold some 170 million copies and was popular in China. An animated TV series and fpour feature films were produced in the 1990s.
The new film adaptation was a major hit in Japan. Releasing at the beginning of December, it has earned $98.7 million to date, according to Box Office Mojo. In Hong Kong, it has pulled in $4.70 million, while in South Korea its total is over $35 million.
Chinese state media has been generous in its praise for the new film, reporting breathlessly on queues for the previews, its nostalgia-fueled middle-aged male demographic, Japan’s strength in animation production and the two countries “cultural affinity.” That provides a strong boost for the film and allows exhibitors to program it widely at a time when the same state media simultaneously acknowledge that bilateral political relations between the Japanese and Chinese governments are “most severe.”
Chinese authorities have this year re-opened the door to imports of foreign movies after a deeply depressed 2022 that posed a threat to the viability of cinema exhibitors. Hollywood movies have returned to Chinese screens in volume, many obtaining release dates simultaneous with their global openings. But most currently trail behind the Chinese and Japanese market leaders.
Another Japanese animation film that has played strongly in China and across Asia is Shinkai Makoto’s “Suzume.” It enjoyed two weeks atop the Chinese box office and now has a cumulative of $107 million, ahead of its score in Japan. In Korea, “Suzume” overhauled “The First Slam Dunk” to become the highest-scoring film of 2023, while in North America “Suzume” has grossed $6.45 million so far.