"Frozen" is now nudging a quarter of a billion dollars at the Japanese box office, with not even the Bluray and VOD release here ending its record-breaking 19-week run in theaters.
Although the Academy Award winner was a global smash, no other foreign market has embraced Anna and Elsa quite like Japan.
Released locally as "Anna to Yuki no Jou (Anna and the Snow Queen)," the title of the Hans Christian Andersen story on which the animation film is loosely based, on March 14, it topped Japan's box office for 16 straight weeks until the beginning of July. It has remained in theaters since, taking a total of $248 million (￥25.2 billion) to become the third-highest grossing film in Japan behind Titanic and Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.
Japan's love of both animation and Disney is no secret – Tokyo Disney Resort has seen well over 550 million visitors since it opened in 1983, more than four times the population of Japan – so "Frozen" was expected to do well, though nobody seemed to have foreseen the social phenomenon it became. Walt Disney Studios Japan scheduled the home entertainment release for July 16, clearly expecting it to have left cinemas by then.
One factor that helped contribute to the success of "Frozen" was the local voice and song casting. Anna and Elsa were voiced by Sayaka Kanda and Takako Matsu, two singers and actresses whose performances received almost universal acclaim. Two postings of Matsu's Japanese version of "Let it Go" have more than 95 million hits on Youtube, the song has been heard everywhere for months, while the bilingual soundtrack album has been in the Top Ten since March, currently sitting at number two.
Ari no Mama de, which translates roughly as "just as it is," and is the Japanese rendition of the "Let it Go" phrase, worked exceptionally well and the independent-girl-power theme was a part of the film's appeal in a still conformist society that is currently beginning to deal with ingrained chauvinism. Disney's marketing in Japan originally targeted young women and girls with the somewhat unconventional dual-female lead characters and the film's musical-like qualities. Spreading from that core audience, "Frozen" began to attract a wide age-range, getting occasional cinema-goers into theaters, and a large number of repeaters.
"I went to see it because everyone was talking about it, and the critics were all raving about it in the newspapers," says 83-year-old Tamiko Mizune. "The themes were simple but strong, the animation was stunning and the songs came over well. The Ari no Mama de [Let it Go] phrase really captured people's imagination. Nearly everyone I know has seen it."
Whether it was fortuitous timing or clever scheduling, the 3D Japanese version came into theaters in time for the Golden Week holidays in May, meaning audiences no longer had to choose between the 3D subtitled or dubbed 2D versions. This helped increase the number of repeaters like Keitaro Saito, a manager at a Tokyo advertising agency, who took his four-year-old boy to see the English and Japanese 3D versions.
A longer version of this article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter