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A Theory Why Marvel Movies Don't Dominate Japan

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Marvel movies are successful in Japan. They are popular. But while Avengers: Endgame dominated theaters around the world for weeks, it was soon toppled in Japan by the latest Detective Conan anime. Why are American superhero movies less popular in Japan? Is there a reason? According to film journalist Koremasa Uno, yes there is. 

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Uno is a fan of Marvel movies and has also written extensively about J-pop, and Japanese website Business+IT asked him why America superhero movies are not monster hits in Japan like elsewhere. According to Uno, one of the main constructs of American superhero movies is that they reflect what is going on in society at that time and these heroic tails are modern-myth making. 

“Naturally, they are influenced by Greek mythology and Shakespeare,” Uno continued, adding that in most of these works, the protagonist is a grown adult.

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“However, regarding Japan, those heroes who that battle evil are often juveniles.” The examples Uno lists are those in Gundam, Dragon Ball, Detective Conan and Evangelion. The number of young male and female heroes in Japan is really unprecedented, Uno adds. “But, Japanese people have long become accustomed to that.”

“Young people in the US and Europe often think that they want to grow up quickly and become an adult, but young people in Japan think they want to be children forever.” The superhero movies and cartoons aimed at children reflect that tendency, and this gap could explain the difference in taste between moviegoers in the US and Japan. It’s against this background that the Japanese notion of a hero has been formed, and when people grow up watching younger heroes, that’s what they come to expect. The same is true for those who grow up abroad watching older adult heroes like Batman or Iron Man.

But what about Spider-Man? That was a big hit in Japan and the character is popular. According to Uno, that’s because Peter Parker is still in his teens. Thus, according to his argument, Spider-Man is easier for people in Japan to accept within their concept of a superhero. 

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

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DISCUSSION

Personally, I think the reason is less the setting, and more the way stories are told.

American stories focus more on the action. And because romance is a must, they throw in a random kiss (or sex) scene somewhere in the middle, for no conceivable reason at all.

Japanese stories, meanwhile, focus more on the characters. There’s a lot of mind reading/hearing happening, flashbacks to show why the characters do what they do, and sometimes the characters are unnaturally talkative. But that’s how those stories make us understand the characters. And suddenly we’re no longer watching people fighting amidst explosions, we’re watching the struggles of an individual, both internal and external.

At least, that’s the reason why I vastly prefer Japanese stories over American ones. I’m not saying one is superior to the other. They both have their advantages and drawbacks. I just happen to favor one over the other, and apparently, so do the Japanese.