Chinese animated film triumphs in Japan

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 16, 2021
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"The Legend of Hei" has become the highest-grossing Chinese animated feature in Japan.

A Japanese poster of "The Legend of Hei." [Image courtesy of Joy Pictures]

The 2019 film had attracted more than 360,000 admissions and raked in 560 million Japanese yen (US$5.32 million) by Jan. 25, setting a box office record for a Chinese animated film and marking the biggest success for Chinese overseas distribution.

The heart-warming story takes place in a world where people, goblins, and gods coexist. Xiao Hei is a cat demon who transforms into an adult to live a free life in the mountains. However, the forests in which Xiao Hei lives are being slowly destroyed by human beings and so the former demon embarks on an adventure to live among humans in cities and try to find a new home. The film grossed 320 million yuan (US$49.47 million) in China upon its release in 2019.

Initially "The Legend of Hei" hardly found any cinemas willing to screen it in Japan. It first had limited release on Sept. 20, 2019, in a single theater at Ikebukuro Humax Cinemas as an exhibition screening, targeting only at Chinese in Japan. The agreement was that the distributors would shoulder the costs as the screening may lose the theater money.

But after a warm response and sold-out showings, the distributors decided to extend the film’s run. Aniplex, under Sony Music Entertainment Japan, later joined in promoting the film via local TV networks and employed one of Japan's best native voice teams to dub it. Eventually, the film opened to wide release on Nov. 7, 2020.

Directed by the Chinese animator who goes by the pseudonym MTJJ, "The Legend of Hei" enjoyed extended screenings in Japan and witnessed a growing number of native Japanese audiences who fell in love with the animation, thanks in part to the efforts of a five-person distribution team, Team Joy,  under the Chinese company Joy Pictures.

It is notoriously difficult for foreign animated films to find an audience in Japan, given that the country is already saturated with animations and is considered the anime powerhouse of the world. But as more and more Japanese anime professionals watched the film, word of mouth spread, with some even saying that the quality of the film left them feeling pressure from their Chinese animation peers to improve their own craft.

According to Team Joy, the film has had a positive cultural influence. As its popularity grew, more and more Japanese fans promoted the film on social media, bought related merchandise, and even began learning Chinese.

China Film News said that the Japanese release of "The Legend of Hei" marks a new step forward in attracting more Japanese to watch Chinese animations and Chinese films. Its unprecedented success in Japan also provided "a great example" for the overseas marketing and distribution of Chinese films.

A Japanese poster for "New Gods: Nezha Reborn." [Image courtesy of Joy Pictures]

Following the success of "The Legend of Hei" in Japan, a Joy Pictures spokesperson told that they are working on a subtitled version of "New Gods: Nezha Reborn," the upcoming animated film from Light Chaser Animation that will hit Japanese theaters on Feb. 26, Lantern Festival in China. Light Chaser's successful 2019 animated feature "White Snake" will also have a Japanese-dubbed version hit the Japanese market this summer.

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