Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved anime adventure “Spirited Away” has finally landed a Chinese theatrical release for the first time since opening around the world in 2001 (via Yahoo). Eighteen years later, “Spirited Away” remains one of Miyazaki’s most critically acclaimed directorial efforts and the highest grossing film at the Japanese box office. The anime grossed over $275 million in Japan during its initial release, out-grossing such box office behemoths as James Cameron’s “Titanic.” “Spirited Away” won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003.
With “Spirited Away” finally opening in Chinese theaters, the title now has the chance to reclaim its position as the highest grossing anime film ever released. The Miyazaki movie held the title for over a decade until Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name” surpassed it in 2017 with a global gross of $357 million. Anime has long been popular with Chinese audiences and $83 million of “Your Name’s” total gross came from the Chinese mainland.
Miyazaki films did not open theatrically in China until a re-release of “My Neighbor Totoro” in December 2018, one sign that the relationship between Japan and China is getting less tense. All foreign films that open theatrically in China must first win government approval. The “Totoro” release was a huge box office success with more than $26 million, and “Spirited Away” is widely expected to perform even better given its enduring popularity. Studio Ghibli films have remained popular in China despite not getting theatrical releases because of pirated DVDs and streams.
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Should “Spirited Away” outgross “Totoro” in China, then it stands a chance at becoming the highest grossing anime worldwide once again. The film proved to be a hugely popular hit across the globe at the time of its premiere, winning the Golden Bear for best film at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival. In winning the Oscar the following year, “Spirited Away” remains to this day the only non-English language title to earn the Best Animated Feature trophy.
Miyazaki films breaking through in China in delayed releases bodes well for the director’s upcoming new feature, which Studio Ghibli continues to keep under wraps. The director is currently at work on “How Do You Live?,” his first directorial feature since 2013’s “The Wind Rises.” Given that China has allowed “Totoro” and “Spirited Away” to screen theatrically, “How Do You Live?” should be Miyazaki’s first movie to open in China during its initial release. The director’s most recent effort, the short film “Boro the Caterpillar,” is now screening at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Japan.