Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar winner “Spirited Away” may be 18 years old, but that didn’t stop it from dominating the China box office over the June 21-23 weekend. The 2001 animated adventure film opened for the first time in Chinese movie theaters to a massive $28 million haul (via Variety), over double the $13.2 million Disney/Pixar made with the opening of the highly-anticipated “Toy Story 4.” That a new Pixar outing was dominated by a nearly two-decade old Miyazaki film speaks to Studio’s Ghibli’s widespread popularity in China.
Miyazaki’s 1988 fantasy film “My Neighbor Totoro” was the first Studio Ghibli movie to receive a theatrical release in China when it debuted in theaters last December. The film made $13 million on its opening weekend and ended its run with $26 million. The “Spirited Away” opening in China managed to outgross the entire run of “Totoro,” another remarkable feat for Studio Ghibli.
“Spirited Away” remains the highest grossing film at the Japanese box office. The project grossed over $275 million in Japan during its initial release, more than 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. The film accounted for 30% of all nationwide screenings in China over its debut weekend, while “Toy Story” made up 18%.
While Studio Ghibli films have not been released in Chinese theaters until now, the company has remained popular in China because of pirated DVDs and streams. With “Spirited Away” finally opening in China, the Miyazaki classic now has the chance to reclaim its position as the highest grossing anime film ever released. “Spirited Away” 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; $83 million of the “Your Name” total gross came from the Chinese mainland.
As for Miyazaki, 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.