Calling it an “awakening of youth and passion,” Chinese fans of Slam Dunk, a Japanese sports manga series, swarmed into cinemas on Thursday at midnight. The series’ film version has become the top-grossing imported animation film in Chinese cinemas, as seen from pre-sales.
Frequent cultural exchanges are playing an important role in bringing Asia’s two biggest economies closer, but as bilateral relations spiralled down to the “most severe” point in decades, how big a role such exchanges can play remains a question.
Long lines began to gather at 11 pm on Wednesday at a cinema in Southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality. Most in the queue were men in their 30s or 40s, and a few even donned the red uniforms worn by characters in the series. They were waiting for the premiere of The FirstSlam Dunk, which began at midnight.
Wan Ming, 32, a Chongqing office worker, drank two cups of espresso on Wednesday afternoon so he could “lift his spirit” and enjoy the film late at night. “The Slam Dunk manga dominated my childhood, it can be called the memory of our generation,” he told the Global Times.
The original series, which depicted the personal growth of several high school basketball players, inspired numerous Chinese boys and girls to go into basketball.
“Last time I saw so many people talking and feeling excited about a foreign movie was the screening of Marvel’s Avengers in 2018 and 2019,” a Beijing-based white-collar worker surnamed Chen told the Global Times. She said that the Slam Dunk manga not only inspired her to learn how to play basketball, it also taught her how to play as a team, and why it’s important for us to have dreams.
Inoue expressed his gratitude for Chinese fans on Twitter on Thursday. “Thanks for all your support all the time. I am very happy that The FirstSlam Dunk was released in China today,” he wrote in Chinese.
Opening day box office of The FirstSlam Dunk exceeded 58 million yuan ($8.42 million). The pre-sale box office had reached 115 million yuan as of 11 pm on Wednesday, making it the pre-sale top-grossing exported animation film in China, beating Suzume, another Japanese animated film, according to Maoyan, the Chinese film ticketing agency and film distribution company.
Due to cultural affinity and Japan’s strength in the animation industry, Japanese cultural products have accumulated a massive Chinese fan base in recent years. Yet, as China opens more to the world, young people are increasingly exposed to other cultures, and Japanese cultural products’ influence on the Chinese public is in decline, Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Peking University, told the Global Times.
At the same time, bilateral ties have nosedived to the “most severe situation” since the normalization of diplomatic relations 51 years ago, as Japan has been more provocative on the Taiwan question.
“Under such circumstances, how far can once-robust cultural exchanges push forward bilateral ties? That remains a question,” said Zhang.
“Japanese culture’s attraction for me does not really affect my opposition to the country’s foreign and military policy and the negative image because of its history of aggression,” 31-year-old Beijing resident Liu Zun told the Global Times.
At the end of the movie, two leading characters who didn’t get along gave high-fives after their cooperation led to a scored shoot.
“The two are friends who are competing with each other, and also helped each other grow. That is a model relationship for countries, in my opinion. But it seems that the wisdom of Japanese animation won’t be learned by the country’s politicians,” said Wan.