It’s official: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train has claimed the top spot in Japan’s all-time box office ranking, with a domestic cume that stands at 32.47 billion yen (USD$313 million). This moment had seemed inevitable for a while, but it is no less stunning for that.
The movie was released on October 16, shooting out of the gates to gross more than ¥10 billion in ten days; no title had done that before in the country. Since then, it has gleefully broken record after record, closing in on the top spot even as Japan — which had managed the pandemic relatively well — began to see a steep rise in cases.
This weekend, Mugen Train finally surpassed Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (31.68 billion yen), which had held the all-time number-one spot for almost two decades. Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning classic returned to the top of the box office earlier this year as Japanese theaters reopened, and went on to add almost one billion yen to its haul. Ultimately, that wasn’t enough to keep it ahead of Mugen Train.
(It’s worth noting that six of Japan’s all-time top ten grossers are animated. The other four, in descending order, are Disney’s Frozen, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, and Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle.)
The Demon Slayer movie’s success didn’t come out of nowhere. The film is based on Koyoharu Gotoge’s manga Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, which was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump between February 2016 and May 2020 and has sold around 120 million copies to date. The comic inspired a hit anime series, to which Mugen Train is a follow-up. Directed by Haruo Sotozaki and produced by the Tokyo-based Ufotable, the film tells the story of a teenage boy who teams up with demon fighters to save his sister, who has herself been turned into a demon.
Its triumph is striking at a time when theatrical exhibition in many territories remains dysfunctional. But the pandemic may in fact have helped Mugen Train on its way, by clearing the schedule of major competition. The film is now the highest-grossing animated release of 2020, and one of the movie industry’s top global grossers full stop. Sony subsidiaries Funimation and Aniplex of America are due to give it a theatrical release in North America early next year.
In other news, Pixar’s Soul opened theatrically this weekend in territories where Disney+ doesn’t operate. That includes China, where it came in fourth with $5.5 million. It’s a modest debut — compare with The Croods: A New Age, which opened in the country with $19.2 million last month — but reviews are very strong, meaning the film may have legs.