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Your Name: Japanese body-swap fantasy is China cinema hit

image copyright©2016 YNFP
image captionThe movie has become the top earning Japanese film at China's box office

Japanese anime film Your Name has already been a huge success in its own country. And now it has become the country's most successful film yet at the Chinese box office.

Despite the lack of big-name Hollywood stars or expensive stunts, it has taken nearly $78m since its debut in early December.

So why is it doing so well? The BBC's Ashleigh Nghiem takes a look.

It's appealing to Chinese looking for escapism

Written and directed by 43-year-old Makoto Shinkai, Your Name is a love story about two teenagers who swap bodies.

The dreamy drama about missed connections involving young star-crossed lovers has captured the imagination of Chinese audiences.

For evidence, look no further than the reviews on the Chinese film rating site, - where reviews have averaged 9.3 out of 10.

image captionChinese fans have given Your Name an average rating of 9.3 out of 10

"The film was beautiful beyond words and every shot was like a painting," one cinema goer Taylor wrote.

But it is perhaps the element of fantasy that appeals to young Chinese looking for a little escapism.

"Watching this film made me miss the springtime of my youth and that really touched me," said one fan.

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Timing is everything

Film experts believe Your Name has struck a chord with young Chinese at just the right time.

"It's a love story targeted at the demographic with the most amount of disposable income, the so-called 'Post 90s' generation which has been driving the box office boom," said Jonathan Papish, film industry analyst for China Film Insider.

"It also fits well with the ACGN (Anime, Comic, Game, Novel) youth subculture that is growing in popularity in China," Mr Papish added.

With 200 million young consumers, the youth entertainment market is expanding fast. According to the Chinese investment bank CITIC securities, the market is set to double to 500bn yuan ($76bn; £60.6bn) within a few years.

And while China may never have had a greater financial stake in Hollywood (as Dalian Wanda's investment in everything from film studios to cinema chains is testament to), Mr Papish said the market was ripe for more movies from producers outside of Hollywood.

Chinese consumers are looking for an international flavour in their fashion, travel choices and purchasing habits, he says, so why should the film market be any different?

image copyright©2016 YNFP
image captionThe dreamy drama of two star crossed teenage lovers has struck a chord with young Chinese movie-goers

Is it a one-off?

With box office ticket sales of nearly $78m, the 2D animation replaces Stand By Me Doreamon as the top grossing Japanese film of all time in China.

And that could just be the tip of the iceberg for anime creators.

Foreign sales of Japanese animation surged almost 80% last year to nearly $300m, according to the Association of Japanese Animations, though it could not say how much of that bump came from China.

One thing that's certain though: success is not guaranteed.

"Japanese anime is well known and popular in China, however not all films achieve box office success," said Rance Pow, Chief Executive of the Asian film consultancy, Artisan Gateway.

Nine of the 11 Japanese movies released in China this year were animated films but only three of them took in more than $20m in ticket sales.

Mr Pow believes well-known Japanese franchises that have an established fan base should fare well in China, particularly with millennials who grew up with many of the characters.

But takings for Japanese films still lag far behind most Hollywood blockbusters in China.

Furious 7 raked in more than $350m, Transformers: Age of Extinction pulled in $286m and Zootopia took $221m in ticket sales.

image copyrightReuters
image captionWritten and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the film has shown the potential of anime in China.

So are foreign markets now anime's goal?

Your Name's success has not been limited to China. It recently won the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for the best animated film and is being considered for an Oscar nomination.

But Your Name producers told the BBC that the Japanese market remained its primary focus.

"Usually in Japan, business can be completed domestically, so there was no thinking that you have to go overseas from the business point of view," said Genki Kawamura from the Japanese film distribution company Toho.

"But dubbing helped us to overcome language barriers and with animation we can express the big world without a big set or the location, to reach a wider audience abroad."

Success overseas looks set to be an increasingly important source of revenue for Japan's anime industry.

While anime resonates with Japan's young people, its appeal could diminish over time as its target audience at home gets older.

"In 2025, more than a quarter of our population will be over 65 years old and our birth rate is lower than Germany and all OECD nations," said Sejiro Takeshita, Professor of Management and Information at the University of Shizuoka

"If you combine those together and you're a Japanese company, you better start thinking about expanding overseas to create new demand."

Related Topics

  • Animation
  • Film
  • Anime

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