In 2001, Spirited Away became the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. Twenty years later, in the midst of the pandemic, another Japanese release emerged and toppled Spirited Away’s box office record. This film wasn’t a critical darling or the work of an esteemed auteur. It wasn’t even a standalone film. It was a transitional installment of the anime series Demon Slayer (2019–), fitting right between seasons one and two. This 1-hour and 57-minute bridge story made more than 500 million dollars worldwide. The film’s American success is almost entirely due to the popularity of season one, streamed on Netflix at the height of the pandemic. In 2001, Spirited Away made $13.7 million in the US. In 2021, Mugen Train made $49.5 million stateside. 20 ago anime was still a niche interest for a small set of avid American fans. Now it is pervasive. Many people in older generations may not realize exactly how popular anime is with younger viewers, but, it is very popular. When students are asked what their favorite films are. Often they can’t think of one, but ask, “Can I tell you what my favorite anime is?” While American animation tends to target children, anime is often unexpectedly (and sometimes distressingly) adult to Western eyes. It also draws on vibrant narrative art (manga), which provides a depth of worldbuilding and storytelling often unavailable to Western animation. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba began as a popular manga in 2016. It tells the story of Tanjiro Kamado, a humble woodsman, who provides for his fatherless family by selling charcoal down the mountain in the local village. In the first episode, he returns to find his family killed by a demon. The only survivor of the attack is his sister Nezuko who has been transformed into a demon with a thirst for blood. Rather than killing Nezuko, Tanjiro tames his sister through his hopeful compassion for her, and resolves to find a way to restore her humanity. The series follows Tanjiro as he trains as a demon slayer and seeks a cure for Nezuko. The eponymous monsters of Demon Slayer bear little resemblance to the evil spirits of Christian theology. They are more like the oni of Japanese folklore, wicked or dangerous creatures haunted by the pains of the former human lives.
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with JOURNAL author Phil Tallon about his online-exclusive article, “Slaying and Redeeming Demons: Understanding the Anime Film Demon Slayer”.
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Other articles podcasts featuring this author:
A Hidden Life
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
Fred Rogers and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood:
Steven Spielberg Movies:
Alfred Hitchcock films:
The Coen Brother’s Films:
The Films of Quentin Tarantino: