30 Years On, a New ‘Slam Dunk’ Scores Big With Old Fans in China

30 Years On, a New ‘Slam Dunk’ Scores Big With Old Fans in China

SHANGHAI — Midnight. And the phones went up as soon as the tranquil colors of Okinawa, Japan, burst into the frame. Seconds later, fingers started tapping away as social media posts were quickly made. 

When the opening titles rolled, the excitement grew. The phones stayed up to capture the moment and share it with the world.

That was at one of the first screenings of the Japanese anime movie, “The First Slam Dunk,” in China on Thursday, and the crowds were more than ready. As the cult classic unfolded, thousands of fans across the country were in theaters despite it being a workday the next day. 

At a new shopping mall built above a subway station in Shanghai’s westernmost Qingpu District, more than 140 people cheered and cried in the IMAX theater along with fans at three other simultaneous screenings nearby. 

The film is the first adaptation of the ’90s Japanese manga and anime, “Slam Dunk,” written and directed by legendary manga artist Takehiko Inoue. 

According to ticketing platform Maoyan, presales for the film in China exceeded 100 million yuan ($14.53 million) as of Wednesday, a new record for presales of an imported animated movie, while advance ticket sales for midnight screenings exceeded 20 million yuan.

Jin, in his late 30s, told Sixth Tone, “The manga has been with me since my junior high school years. I’ve waited for this movie for over 30 years.” 

And like others in the audience, Jin was wearing a bright red basketball jersey and shorts, along with matching basketball shoes, with the word “SHOHOKU” emblazoned on the jersey. He had to, he said, because the film represents a “precious memory” that he shares with his wife. 

“I’ve already read about the ending of the film, but I came with my wife anyway. It’s been a 30-year-long appointment,” he said.  

Also at the cinema was Xue, a mother in her 40s, who had come with three friends and her son, the only child in attendance at the screening. All wearing movie merchandise T-shirts, they scrambled to pick up more free merchandise including posters and stickers being handed out by cinema staff. 

“I was introduced to the manga at a time when we didn’t have many choices,” she said.

In Nanjing, the cinemas were so full that it was almost impossible to find a decent seat, says Xu Zifan, a 25-year-old student, who also attended a midnight screening.  

“Though I almost stayed up the whole night for this movie as I had to catch a morning train to Beijing at 8 a.m., the movie was absolutely worth it,” said Xu.  

Much of the movie’s appeal comes from what many fans deem as the unresolved storyline of the anime series, which ended just as the Shohoku high school basketball team entered the national championships. The original manga’s storyline of troubled teens finding brotherhood and purpose in their lives through basketball also resonated deeply with fans. 

Shi Xisang, a 35-year-old employee at a Japanese company in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that the anime “taught me everything.” Before attending a midnight screening, he rewatched all 101 episodes of the anime, something he’d done over 20 times. He’s also already bought six more tickets to see the film.  

As of Thursday afternoon, the movie has a score of 9.2 out of 10 from over 23,000 users on Douban, China’s leading review site — one of the highest on the site. Over 10,000 users have left reviews in the comments, many telling the story of their relationship with the anime through the years. 

“Tears … (Slam Dunk) is what caused my love for basketball,” Dany Lee, a Chinese pop singer, posted on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo Thursday afternoon with three crying emojis.

First released in Japan in December last year, “The Last Slam Dunk” grossed over $9.5 million in its first two days and has since become one of the highest-grossing animated movies of all time. 

There will be 130,000 screenings of “The Last Slam Dunk” across the country on Thursday, according to The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication. All eyes are on whether the movie will become the highest-grossing Japanese movie in China by surpassing 2022 animated fantasy movie “Suzume,” which has fetched $109 million at the box office as of April 16. 

The movie is scheduled for release in Europe and the United States later this year. 

Editor: Apurva. 

(Header image: Slam Dunk fans at a cinema in Shanghai, April 20, 2023. VCG)

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