​Nostalgia-filled 'Slam Dunk' film set to become cultural phenomenon in China

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 19, 2023
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"The First Slam Dunk," a Japanese animated sports film, is set to provide a significant boost to the Chinese film market and emerge as a cultural phenomenon of the year. Evoking nostalgia in fans spanning generations, the film is poised to captivate audiences with its charm and distinctive 1990s flair.

A massive China premiere for "The First Slam Dunk" takes place at the Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium of Peking University in Beijing, April 15, 2023. [Photo/VCG]

"The First Slam Dunk" is a film adaptation of the "Slam Dunk" manga series, written and directed by its original creator, Takehiko Inoue. The story follows Ryota Miyagi, the point guard of Shohoku High School's basketball team, whose passion for basketball was ignited by his older brother Sota. Along with his teammates Hanamichi Sakuragi, Takenori Akagi, Hisashi Mitsui, and Kaede Rukawa, Ryota takes on the formidable inter-high basketball champions, the Sannoh school.

Since the original TV anime concluded in 1996, fans have eagerly awaited a continuation of the story. In 2014, producer Toshiyuki Matsui from Toei Animation persuaded Inoue to greenlight the film. Before that, Matsui had assembled a team led by Naoki Miyahara and Toshio Ohashi, who spent nearly five years developing prototype videos to explore the visual look that could be created using 3DCG. Inoue began writing the script in January 2015 and agreed to direct the film. Following years of development, the film finally entered production in 2021.

Inoue explained that he was motivated to participate in the film by the passion of the team working on the prototypes. Upon seeing a high-quality image of Sakuragi's face, he felt that his involvement would enhance the project even further. As for his narrative goals, Inoue aimed to present a fresh perspective on "Slam Dunk" by shifting the focus away from a protagonist with boundless potential and instead exploring the theme of living with pain and overcoming it. 

In China, "The First Slam Dunk" is more than just a film. Following the successful promotion of the Japanese animated fantasy adventure film "Suzume," which had already grossed more than 750 million yuan ($109 million) by Sunday, local film marketing company Road Pictures hosted another grand premiere for "The First Slam Dunk" at the prestigious Peking University on April 15. This time, the organizers went all out, opting for a sports arena at the university instead of a smaller auditorium, transforming it into a spectacular venue. They invited over 4,000 attendees, including filmmakers, guests, fans and students.

The atmosphere at the venue was electrifying, as many attendees were moved to tears at the sight of their childhood heroes on a giant 27-meter-wide temporary high-definition screen installed by Cinity, China's leading advanced film projection system maker. In addition to the advanced screening, Road Pictures organized slam dunk performances from some of China's top basketball players, cheerleading dances, special video clips, a full-house sing-along to the popular theme song, and opportunities for attendees to engage with Chinese filmmakers like Da Peng and Yi Xiaoxing, who expressed their nostalgia for the film. The constant cheers and applause brought the venue to life, providing an immersive experience akin to being at an intense basketball game rather than a film screening.

The moment the Chinese voice cast members for "The First Slam Dunk," including Gu Jiangshan, Guan Zhihong, Sun Zhongtai, and Yu Zhengsheng, appeared on stage, the arena erupted with excitement again. Some of these talented individuals were the original voice actors for the Chinese version of the imported Japanese anime. Their familiar voices stirred nostalgia in the audience. Many attendees were deeply moved as they listened to the voice actors share how the animation profoundly impacted their lives.

An IMAX poster for "The First Slam Dunk." [Image courtesy of IMAX China]

These were just glimpses of the immense nostalgia and passion Chinese people have for the series. First introduced in China in 1990, the manga gained further popularity when its anime entered the country in 1995. The phenomenon has become a collective memory for generations, inspiring a wide range of individuals – including manga enthusiasts, basketball fans, and ordinary people from all walks of life – to strive for their best.

As of Wednesday, presales for the film's box office tickets in China had already surpassed 100 million yuan, a remarkable achievement for any film screened in the country over the years. Fan clubs and casual viewers alike are eagerly waiting for the film, with the most fervent supporters securing midnight preview tickets. On China's review aggregator website, Douban, over 10,324 moviegoers who saw the film in Japan, other territories, or at the Chinese premiere gave it an exceptionally high score of 9.2 out of 10.

According to Box Office Mojo, "The First Slam Dunk" was theatrically released in Japan in December 2022, grossing over $97.9 million domestically and $138 million worldwide before its release in the Chinese mainland on April 20. Analysts monitoring the Chinese film market predict it will surpass 1 billion yuan in China, potentially making it the first Japanese film to reach this milestone.

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