Film Junk is reporting some fairly surprising news–The Dark Knight is not doing so well in Japan. And by not so well, I mean that it’s only pulled in $8.7 million after being in theaters for three weeks. Of course, part of the problem is that it’s competing against Hayao Miyazaki’s latest opus, Ponyo on a Cliff, which raked in $14.8 million during its opening weekend, and an astonishing $93.2 million in its first four weeks of release.
But I don’t think Miyazaki is entirely to blame. Looking at the top films in the Japanese box office for the past few weeks, it’s clear that Japan seems to have no love for The Dark Knight. In its second week of release, it was bested by The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and, brace yourselves, What Happens in Vegas. Yes, an Ashton Kutcher/Cameron Diaz suckfest defeated The Dark Knight. This week, it lost out to Sex and the City, the Mummy 3 again (?!), and Star Wars the Clone Wars.
Film Junk points to critic Chika Minagawa, who offers the following thoughts on why Japanese audiences aren’t fawning over the film:
The story is very pessimistic. It has a dark and gloomy texture that Japanese movie fans do not find appealing in a ‘comic hero’ film… Japanese movie fans expect such films to be fun and action packed, for the hero to be attractive, for the villain to be loud and outrageous, and for the movie itself to be easy to understand and light.
I’m not sure how exactly The Dark Knight fails to meet that criteria, except for perhaps being too dark. Then again, it’s not as if dark superheroes are all that new to Japan–anime is widely recognized for its ability to bring mature themes to animation.
It could be that The Dark Knight is simply too Western for Japanese audiences, something we’ve actually seen in a few anime properties. For example, the first episode of Cowboy Bebop wasn’t very well received in Japan, despite being regarded as a classic today, and an episode which director Shinichiro Watanabe loves because it perfectly encapsulates the themes of the series. Bebop is a series that owes much to Western cinema and culture, and that was clearly something that initially turned off Japanese audiences. Similarly, The Dark Knight evokes great American crime films like Heat and The French Connection–something which Japan may not find too palatable.
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