If Disney's animated blockbuster “Frozen” holds the top spot at the box office in Japan this weekend, it will make it three consecutive months that it's been No. 1 — and more than $200 million in grosses.
To put that in perspective, when the musical tale of chill sisters Anna and Elsa made its box-office debut in that country back in March, no one was wondering about Malaysian jetliners or knew who Donald Sterling was.
“Frozen” is, of course, a hit just about everywhere. It's the highest-grossing animated movie in history, and just passed “Iron Man 3” to become the fifth-highest grossing film ever at the worldwide box office with more than $1.21 billion. The $200 million it has amassed in Japan is roughly half of what it's made in the United States, but far more than double the amount that it's made in any foreign market. South Korea is second at $77 million.
“It's become very clear that the themes and emotions of ‘Frozen’ transcend geography,” Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap, “but what's going on in Japan is extraordinary.”
A “perfect storm” of factors has come together to keep it in the forefront of Japanese pop culture, according to Akira Lippit, chairman of the critical studies division in USC's School of Cinematic Arts and an expert on Japanese culture.
“Animated films are held in great regard in Japan, and the Disney brand name with all of its heritage is extremely valuable, too,” Lippit said. “But the biggest reason is the primary audience for the ‘Frozen’ — 13- to 17-year-old teenage girls.”
“They wield an incredible amount of influence in terms of shaping pop culture and ‘Frozen’ has so many elements that appeal to them, with its story of a young girl with power and mystique, who finds her own sort of good in herself,” he said.
The same demo group that brought us Hello Kitty and cell phone straps drove a similar phenomenon with “Titanic” way back in 1997, when millions of Japanese teen girls turned out to watch Leonard DiCaprio go under — several times. “Frozen” is seeing similar repeat business, and is about to pass James Cameron's disaster saga on the all-time box office list in Japan.
The highest-grossing film ever in Japan is “Spirited Away,” the 2001 Studio Ghibli animated fantasy written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki that brought in nearly $230 million. “Titanic” is second, but not for long. “Frozen” will probably pass the $201.3 million that Cameron's epic brought in sometime next week.
Japan's pop music scene is vital, particularly for teens, and great care was taken in choosing the voices for the Japanese-dubbed version.
“We really put effort into finding actors who could not only play the role but also belt out the tunes as well,” Disney Japan's Orika Hiromura, the marketing project leader for the movie, told the Wall Street Journal. “We found the perfect match in Takako Matsu and Sayaka Kanda, and they really added a whole new dimension to the storytelling.”
The box-office success of “Frozen” has been steady, and not at all front-loaded. The animated hit has taken in roughly $7 million to $8 million every weekend since its debut, with the exception of the Golden Week holiday period in early May when it brought in $11 million — in its eighth week of release in Japan.
USC's Lippit was particularly impressed that “Frozen” was continuing to dominate as June approached.
“It's summer,” he said. “You'd think that might put people off a movie about snow at some point.”
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