makoto shinkai's suzume

Japanese Film ‘Suzume’ Challenges Hollywood at Chinese Box Offices

Makoto Shinkai’s latest fantasy anime beat Hollywood blockbusters, including ‘Black Panther 2,’ to become China’s top foreign release of the year

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12:48 PM HKT, Thu March 30, 2023 2 mins read

Last Friday, celebrated Japanese director and animator Makoto Shinkai’s latest animated film, Suzume no Tojimari, aka Suzume (铃芽之旅), made its record-breaking debut in Chinese theaters.

Just over the weekend, it made upwards of 365.5 million RMB (about 53 million USD). It’s well on the way to surpassing the record set by the current highest-grossing Japanese film in China, Shinkai’s 2016 anime Your Name, which made 78 million USD in its first two weeks.

Suzume is a fantasy adventure film about the titular Suzume, a high school girl, and a mysterious man named Sōto who must work together to close the world off from a dangerous alternate realm. It was released last November in Japan, becoming Shinkai’s most successful creation yet; the film’s worldwide release is set to begin on April 12.

Undoubtedly, the movie’s triumph in China can be attributed to Shinkai’s devoted Chinese fan base, who were captivated by his previous works, Your Name and Weathering with You.

“Makoto Shinkai’s classic Your Name is number one in my heart,” one netizen wrote, “Shinkai was my first anime love.”

a poster for suzume by makoto shinkai

The Chinese poster for Suzume. Image via IMDb

Suzume’s successful release in China comes after lackluster receptions for traditional Hollywood blockbusters, such as Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, both released in China in February this year.

Black Panther made only 15.6 million USD in China, while Ant-Man brought in 39 million USD, even though they were the first Marvel releases in the country since Spider-Man: Far From Home came out in 2019.

Even the much-anticipated James Cameron film Avatar: The Way of Water — a sequel to the highest-grossing movie of all time, which came out last December, made just 57.1 million USD on its opening weekend in China.

The success of Suzume, then, marks a potential turning point for the foreign movie market in China, which Hollywood has traditionally dominated.

To connect with his fans in China, Shinkai visited Beijing and Shanghai as part of a publicity tour in mid-March, making him reportedly the first foreign creative to officially visit the country since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

During his time in China, he even toted around a small yellow chair — representing Sōto, who gets turned into a chair by a mysterious cat in the film.

makoto shinkai at peking university

Shinkai visiting Peking University on March 17. Image via his tweet

So far, Suzume has received more than 160,000 reviews on the Chinese movie review platform Douban, where it has an average rating of 7.4/10. Though the rating is lower than the 8.5/10 that Your Name boasts, it is much better than Black Panther 2’s 5.4/10.

It’s important to note that foreign film releases are heavily limited in China. International studios trying to get their movies shown in China have two options: a ‘revenue-share’ agreement, meaning the studios behind the film receive a portion of box office revenue, or a ‘flat fee’ agreement, in which a Chinese studio or firm buys out the rights for distribution.

However, only 34 foreign movies are allowed a revenue share each year, and that’s if they get past the country’s film regulators.

The recent decline in the popularity of Hollywood film releases and the mainstream fervor over Suzume may change the entire landscape for foreign films in China.

As Chinese entertainment site Yu Li, which can be translated to ‘entertainment theory,’ wrote on Weibo, “If Suzume can finally reach the box office range of 600 million to 1 billion RMB, it will definitely have a big impact on the foreign film import market in the future, and studios may rush to buy Japanese films that have always been underestimated [in China].”

Cover image via VCG

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