Japan’s Toho Prepares for Big Comeback in 2023

Long Japan’s cinema industry leader, Toho is poised to reassert itself in 2023 with a muscular new distribution slate, following an off-year.

One surefire reason is that anime maestro and box office king Miyazaki Hayao is bringing out his first film since the 2013 “When the Wind Rises.” Called “How Do You Live?” and inspired by a 1937 Yoshino Genzaburo novel of the same English title, the film is confirmed to open in Japan on July 14, with Toho distributing.  

Details, including story and scale of release, are still in short supply, but fans are expected to crowd theaters to see what may be the 81-year-old Miyazaki’s swan-song.  

Also, to commemorate the 1954 release of the Honda Ishiro classic “Godzilla,” Toho will release the next instalment of the series on Nov. 3, the same day the first-ever Godzilla opened in Japan. Other than the director, sci-fi and fantasy specialist Yamazaki Takashi, Toho has revealed little about the new film, but given that the previous series instalment, the 2016 “Shin Godzilla,” made a box-office-topping JPY25 billion ($186 million), earnings expectations are high.      

Also on the line-up, with a summer 2023 penciled in, is “Kingdom 3,” the third in the hit period action series set in China during the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC), but featuring an all-Japanese cast. The first two films, both based on a manga by Hara Hirahisa and directed by action specialist Sato Shinsuke, were major hits with the second earning JPY5.1 billion ($38 million) since its July bow.  

Also, new entries in the “Detective Conan,” “Doraemon” and “Crayon Shinchan” anime series are on the 2023 line-up, all strong candidates for the year’s box office top ten.  

Auteur Kore-eda Hirokaza’s latest, “Monster,” is set for a June 2 bow, with Gaga co-distributing. The film is based on a screenplay by TV hitmaker Sakamoto Yuki, while his producer is Kawamura Genki, whose credits include the anime smashes of Makoto Shinkai. After local box office disappointments with his 2022 Korean film “Broker” and his 2019 French film “The Truth,” Kore-eda looks ready to resume the hitmaking form of his 2018 made-in-Japan “Shoplifters,” which made JPY4.5 billion ($34 million), the fourth-highest total for a Japanese film that year.  

Used to dominating the Japan box office with the Godzilla franchise and gold-plated anime series, from the enduringly popular “Doraemon” kids series to the latest blockbusters by Shinkai Makoto and Miyazaki Hayao, Toho had a relatively quiet year. It also suffered the indignity of an anti-monopolies probe into its Toho Cinemas chain.

After a two-year pandemic-induced absence, films from Hollywood roared back into the Japanese top 10, led by “Top Gun: Maverick,” which made JPY13.5 billion ($100 million) following its May 27 bow. And the top-earning film for the year, with JPY18.7 billion ($138 million), is the anime “One Piece Film Red,” distributed by rival Toei.  

Toho’s biggest this year is anime mystery “Detective Conan: The Bride of Halloween,” which earned JPY9.7 billion ($71.5 million), the third ranking film of 2022 in Japan. 

That’s some consolation for a behemoth used to enjoying the top ranking year after year. In 2020, anime smash “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train,” set Japan’s all-time box office record with JPY40.4 billion ($298 million). And in 2021 Toho topped again with “Shin Evangelion,” which it co-released with Toei and Khara.