Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Infinity Train is currently smashing Japanese box office records. When it came out on October 16, it made ¥1.2 billion ($11.3 million) on its first day, easily beating the previous first-day record. Its momentum continued and gave it a first-weekend revenue of ¥4.6 billion ($44 million), which is the best opening weekend in Japanese cinema history. On top of this, the film was that weekend's top-grossing film worldwide.
It didn't stop there, either. The film continued to sell tickets at a breakneck pace. It was the fastest film in the history of Japanese cinema to make over $100 million, doing so in 10 days. Within 17 days, it had made over $150 million and within a month, it had made ¥20.4 billion ($197.9 million), making it the fifth highest-grossing film in Japanese history.
For context, the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Hayao Miyazaki's classic Spirited Away, made ¥30.80 billion over its theatrical release and took 19 days to make $100 million revenue. At the time, it was the fastest film to cross this threshold, and it had held the record for an impressive 19 years. So, why is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Infinity Train doing so well?
The obvious answer is that it is part of the Demon Slayer franchise. The franchise is dramatically popular with both manga and anime fans who have fallen in love with the adventures of Tanjiro Kamado and his demonic sister Nezuko. The manga is one of the best selling of all time, having sold over 100 million copies. It has also won a load of awards over its run, including netting writer Koyoharu Gotōge the Kodansha's Noma Publishing Culture Award due to the sales of Demon Slayer boosting the entire manga industry. It also spawned a massive franchise, including stage plays, video games and light novels, as well as, of course, an anime adaptation. This anime also won many awards, including winning eight at the 2019 Newtype Anime Awards, including "Best TV Anime." It also won the prestigious TV anime of the year title at the Tokyo Anime Awards Festival. So, it is no surprise that a film that is part of such a popular franchise would make a lot of money at the box office.
Demon Slayer is a franchise that also suits the theatre environment specifically. The show is known for its high-quality animation, especially within its fight scenes. They're packed with fluid movement and inventive choreography that makes every fight feel exhilarating, exciting and unique. Seing all of this on a big screen would only help you appreciate the details even more.
The show's soundtrack is also fantastic, capturing all of the emotion and energy of the fights while perfectly setting the mood for every scene. While it is great to watch it on your TV at home, seeing it on the big screen with a theatre sound system can only make that experience even better. It seems that Ufotable agrees that its work is best experienced in the theatre, as before the series started, the first five episodes of the anime were shown in theatres under the title Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Bonds of Siblings.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Infinity Train adapts the Mugen Train arc of the manga, meaning that it picks up right where the anime left off, making it more like a sequel to the anime than a standalone film. The anime's voice cast and animation team even reprise their roles for it. This is unusual as a lot of anime movies, especially ones made from Shonen Jump properties, tend to be spinoffs or side stories that don't affect the main plot. However, if you want to keep up with the franchise, you need to see this movie as it adapts Chapters #54 to #69 of the manga. The manga contains 205 chapters, meaning that missing this film will put you behind when more Demon Slayer content inevitably releases.
However, some are suggesting that the success of the film is down to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has forced many movies to delay their releases due to a lot of countries closing their cinemas. This means that a lot of the larger movies, both international films like James Bond and domestically produced ones like Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet, are not releasing until 2021 in Japan. When Japanese cinemas were allowed to reopen recently, only two films were out: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Infinity Train and Christopher Nolan's Tenet.
This lack of releases meant that many cinemas were only showing Demon Slayer. The Toho cinema in Shinjuku screened the movie a staggering 42 times in a single day, and it wasn't the only one. Many cinemas are showing the movie at least 30 times a day across all of their screens. While some say the pent-up demand of those who have missed the cinema and other social events will increase ticket sales, it must be asked if people would go to see a film that is part of a franchise they don't know, just because it is the only movie being shown.
The COVID-19 pandemic did likely help Demon Slayer have such a stellar box office opening. It likely encouraged people to buy tickets for the opening weekend just in case cinemas were closed down again. However, putting the praise solely at the feet of the pandemic does a disservice to the film's cast and staff.
Demon Slayer's reputation and popularity mean that it likely would have been just as big a success if it had been released during a regular year. Acting as a sequel to a very popular anime and an adaption of a beloved manga means it had already earned itself a massive audience who were chomping at the bit for new content. This audience would have flocked to see the film, pandemic or not.