The first Japanese film character to appear in Chinese theaters since tensions increased three years ago between China and Japan over disputed islands is a chubby blue cat.
The character, Doraemon, is the star of a Japanese manga series first published in 1969, which was subsequently adapted into a long-running anime television series and 36 films. “Stand by Me Doraemon,” the first in the cinematic franchise made with computer-generated 3-D imagery, has become the highest-grossing Japanese movie in China since its release on Thursday. In its first four days, it took in 237 million renminbi, or $38 million, $14.2 million of that on Sunday alone. That toppled the single-day box-office record for an animated feature of $10.8 million, set by “Kung Fu Panda 2” four years ago.
The Doraemon movie is the first Japanese film to be shown in Chinese theaters since an “Ultraman” movie in July 2012. China, which sets an annual quota on foreign film imports, did not admit any Japanese movies after Japan nationalized a group of disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, in the East China Sea in September 2012. Last September, three newspapers in Sichuan Province attacked Doraemon for being a tool of Japan’s “cultural invasion.”
The screenings of “Stand By Me Doraemon” appear to signal a slight thaw in relations between Beijing and Tokyo.
The film’s release came days after President Xi Jinping of China met with Toshihiro Nikai, a veteran Japanese lawmaker from the governing Liberal Democratic Party who was leading a 3,000-person delegation to China.
At their meeting in Beijing, where Mr. Nikai delivered a personal letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Xi said “the future of Sino-Japan relations are in the hands of the people of the two countries,” and warned against distortions of history. China has long accused Japan of failing to atone for atrocities committed during World War II.
“Stand By Me Doraemon” features Nobita, a 10-year-old boy who is struggling with schoolwork and classroom bullies. His great-grandson travels back in time from the 22nd century with the robot cat Doraemon, whose mission is to secure Nobita a better future.
“I went to see the movie because it was the first time a Doraemon movie was made 3-D,” said Chi Jiapeng, a 21-year-old software engineering student and Doraemon fan in Beijing. “That felt pretty fresh.”
Many parents brought their children to see the film in advance of the Children’s Day holiday on Monday, perhaps drawing on their own Doraemon memories. The blue cat has amassed an enormous number of Chinese fans since the introduction of the anime series in China in 1991.
“An old classmate and I took the kids to see Doraemon,” one commenter wrote on Sina Weibo. “I was in tears during the movie.”
“There is no time machine in real life,” another lamented.
But not all fans were pleased with the plot.
“I was pretty disappointed,” said Mr. Chi, the student. “The movie focused too much on the love story between Nobita and Shizuka” — Nobita’s future wife — “instead of Doraemon’s signature stories, which are full of imagination.”
By VANESSA PIAO