Japanese Films’ Success in U.S. Likely to Spur Overseas Strategy among Japan Firms; Movie Exports up 600% over Decade

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A poster for “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiruka” (“The Boy and the Heron”) is seen in Torrance, Calif., in January.

The success of Japanese films “Godzilla Minus One” and “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiruka” (“The Boy and the Heron”) in the United States, and their Oscar wins, are likely to push the Japanese film industry further toward an international strategy.

Toho Co., which produced and distributed the Godzilla film, established subsidiary Toho Global Inc. in July last year to supervise overseas operations. Toho Global has begun working with a marketing subsidiary in Los Angeles to exchange information and plan projects in the United States.

The release of “Godzilla Minus One” in the United States was the first of a series of projects by Toho Global, and the Toho group was solely responsible for distribution, which had previously been left to a local firm. “This move makes it possible for us to work smoothly toward the local release of films,” a Toho official said.

According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan Inc., exports of films overseas through distribution and screening rights have been growing steadily since 2013.

Exports increased only marginally in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they grew 13% year on year to about $480 million last year, about seven times more than the $65 million seen in 2013.

The association believes that the sale of Japanese films, especially animated movies, have been boosted by strong overseas distribution. It also said such animated films as “Suzume no Tojimari” (“Suzume”) and “The First Slam Dunk” performed well at the box office in 2023.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Movie theater attendance in Japan and film exports

“The Japanese movie industry has been unable to pass its goal of 200 million moviegoers annually in Japan,” said Shogo Tomiyama, 72, chairman of the Japan Institute of the Moving Image.

This impasse has led to an urgent need to develop overseas markets. The shift in focus “will likely grow more pronounced going forward,” said Tomiyama.