The Dark Knight Bombs in Japan

Just when you thought that public opinion on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was all but unanimously positive, here comes the wacky Japanese market to put their own spin on things. After its second week in theatres, the movie is struggling at the box office in Japan, earning just $8.7 million thus far — almost $6 million less than what it earned in the smaller Korean market. To be fair, some of the movie’s thunder may have been stolen by the latest Hayao Miyazaki animated blockbuster Ponyo on the Cliff, which has tallied a staggering $93.2 million in its first four weeks. However, the numbers are even lower than Batman Begins, which made $14 million in its opening weekend in Japan.

Historically, many Hollywood blockbusters and comic book movies in particular haven’t fared well in Japan (with the exception of Spider-Man). Critic Chika Minagawa offers some possible explanations for why The Dark Knight hasn’t caught on in Japan:

“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.”

Actually I’d say I agree with those requirements for the most part, although The Dark Knight is one of the few exceptions to the rule. Still, I do find it a little odd that Batman is getting the cold shoulder in Japan, if only because of the animated Batman: Gotham Knight movie, which brought various Japanese animation houses like Production I.G. and Madhouse together to embrace the character in their own way. I suppose there’s just no accounting for taste.

  • The problems with The Dark Knight are obvious. Batman doesn’t look effeminate enough nor does he have giant spikey hair. There’s also not enough needless exposition screamed by the characters as they fight each other.

  • TheMovieVampire

    Hate to make sweeping generalizations about a culture, but Japan probably would have responded more to a movie called Batman: Super Happy Fun Time.

  • Bob Funn

    You guys can make jokes but its like saying Americans only like WWWF. As great as Dark Knight was (And it was great) some people just can’t accept the idea of someone dressing up as a flying rat no matter how much you dress it up, as it happens most of those people live in Japan.

  • Matt

    Hmm, that’s very unfortunate. I’m kind of saddened for them because they can’t appreciate the movie.
    Which is spprising because I thought that the Japanese would be very much up for a dark and thoughtful film.
    The critic’s reasoning above seems to correspond with what Robert Downey said earlier this summer about TDK. Does anyone know how Irom Man did in Japan? Or any other movie for that matter?

  • Japan is home to many of the bleakest movies I have seen. Just because they may prefer their superheroes on the light side doesn’t mean everything else is sunshine and unicorns.

  • TheMovieVampire

    I’m sure there are plenty of people in Japan who are all in favor of bleak stuff, but I do think this says somthing about the tastes of mainstream audiences there.

  • Josh

    lol Paul said it best.

  • Pres

    Matt: Iron Man doesn’t open here until September 27, so there’re no box-office results to compare it with.

    I think it’s less about what Japan thinks about heroes in general, than that the broad mood of Japan isn’t particularly dark at the moment. America’s currently in the mood for relentless depressing dark stuff and TDK fit that to a tee, and Japan’s in the mood for light stuff right now, as evidence by Miyazaki’s Ponyo.

    (I don’t even remember Gotham Knight coming through the theaters in Japan, or I might have gone to see it, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t make too much money)

    My wife also points out that Batman isn’t a household name here (like say, Superman is), and there’s never been a Japanese version where he gets a giant robot, like Spider-Man did… :)

  • H Thomson

    There wasn’t much advertising in Japan compared with most blockbusters. I wasn’t even aware it had come out here.

  • Nuke

    I think the answer is much more simpler than the Japanese not liking dark things: Piracy.
    Seriously, it’s one of the biggest, baddest movie releases in years and they’ve been waiting until now to be able to see it in theaters?
    That’s just throwing potential movie tickets away, Warner Bros.

  • stevie_boy

    TDK; needs more ludicrously huge swords.

  • Not surprising. Foreign markets other than the U.K. and Canada aren’t into films with lots of dialogue they’ll need subtitles for.

    Also, they practically worship Miyazaki (as they should) so Warners should have known better.

  • Japanese people are afraid of clowns.

  • Primal

    Ryan M. is right about Miyazaki being absolutely worshiped in Japan and its bad timing to release TDK in Japan if its all about profit.

    I’m not surprised to see all the ethnocentric comments here on this thread and on other sites. People like to live in other own bubble and not like to see the other side of things.

  • Leo of BORG

    I saw the teaser for Dark Knight on the end of a raw for Macross Frontier and this is what I have to say:

    If Hollywood was serious about Japan they would have tweaked the teaser to something more than 15 seconds.

    Japan’s entertainment is / has gotten a LOT better, especially the anime. Fuji’s whole ‘Notamina’ thing is a coupe.

    The fact of the matter is that compared to ‘Library Wars’ [Toshoukan Sensou], Macross Frontier, and the *anime* that’s on over there the US so-called entertainment offerings are looking pretty stale. And Americans, for accepting this poy are looking pretty stupid.

  • Pres

    One more thing: lurking around 2-channel, I found a number of people with the same complaint: nowhere in the title does it say “Batman”. Apparently a non-trivial amount of people over here aren’t realizing it’s a Batman movie in the first place. “Dark Knight” in Japanese looks exactly like “Dark Night” and only the hardcore US-comic fans even know that means Batman.

    Kinda like the Speed Racer movie, which came to Japan with the English title that means nothing to your average moviegoer. Half the people never figured out it was Mach Go Go Go. Dark Knight’s title itself might be part of the problem.

    Admittedly that doesn’t explain why Korea seems to get it…

  • giren

    Japanese is one of the most brilliant storyteller in the world. They don’t have a BAD taste. Maybe it just a different taste in a different eyes. Telling Japanese taste is stupid is like telling that Hollywood are responsible to make a brainless and mindless crap to the cinema.

  • Executives at Warner Bros. studios are re-releasing The Dark Knight next year in a bid to win the Batman movie an Academy Award.

    Read more, view the Movie Trailer and comment on The Dark Knight at Walrus Films

  • Fartnog Buttstinkle

    The movie would have done much better had it featured 8 year old girls with DD cup breasts and Bruce Wayne was a lecherous high school student with magic powers and who names and yells out his attacks before performing them.

    After all, 90% of Japanese entertainment is nothing more than the same couple of plots, settings, and cliches repeated ad nauseam.

  • Not surprising. Foreign markets other than the U.K. and Canada aren’t into films with lots of dialogue they’ll need subtitles for.

  • Glenn / CA

    Who give a crap what the Japanese think, anyway? Why is this even a story?

  • ChaosAkita

    Japan has published tons of the world’s most pessimistic stuff (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Riri Shushu no Subete, Bokurano, etc), how is this any different? Really, I’m actually sick to death about how pessimistic the country(‘s media stuff) is.

  • Andre Diniz

    No wonder Wolverine’s gay son is japanese.

  • darknile

    Well its not that Batman isn’t popular in Japan, I do recall that they were all over the Batman movies made in the 80s-90s. I’m sure there were some fans, but maybe the DVD sales will go up… unless a lot of ppl watched it bootlegged. That would easily explain why the theater sales were so low.

  • Ashraf Anam

    The Japanese know what a real superhero comic book movie is and what a boring cop drama is.

  • Ra’s Al Ghul

    many Hollywood blockbusters and comic book movies in particular haven’t fared well in Japan (with the exception of Spider-Man).

    Sure if you consider the spiderman trilogy real comic book movies.