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Arts

Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away' tops China box office 18 years after debut

Ghibli classic, Japan's most successful film ever, outshines Disney's 'Toy Story 4'

A "Spirited Away"-themed restaurant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. The movie was permitted release in China as the government works to improve relations with Japan.   © AP

NEW YORK -- Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" has just enjoyed a record opening weekend for Japanese films in China, topping the charts 18 years after its initial release elsewhere and generating more than double the box-office revenue of the highly anticipated "Toy Story 4."

The Studio Ghibli classic grossed $27.9 million in mainland China in the first three days, according to Entgroup. "Toy Story 4," the popular Disney sequel, meanwhile, raked in $13.4 million.

"Spirited Away" also performed better than the first Miyazaki film shown in China, "My Neighbor Totoro," which opened in 2018 and grossed $27.3 million for its full run.

Miyazaki's works are widely known and loved in China but have been largely absent from its big screens. Foreign movies must be approved by the government for release. There is an official annual quota of only 34 titles, though this has reportedly been exceeded in recent years. Many Chinese fans grew up watching Ghibli films online and on pirated DVDs.

The record-setting animated film tells the story of a little girl who wanders into the spirit realm after her family's car breaks down in a forest. In the world of magic, she must work at a bathhouse to save her parents, who are turned into pigs by the owner, an evil witch. She meets a diverse cast of characters and finally saves her parents with friends' help.

Many fans in China regard "Spirited Away" as a coming-of-age masterpiece. Some see themselves in the characters, and the ending continues to fuel debate on social media.

The 2001 film enjoyed its late bloom in China as Beijing works to improve bilateral relations ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka this coming weekend.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to attend the leaders' summit, visiting Japan for the first time since taking office in 2013. His government has been seeking ways to strengthen economic and cultural ties with Tokyo following a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October.

"Spirited Away," estimated to have cost $19 million to make, has grossed a total of nearly $278 million globally, according to IMDb.

The film also has a high approval score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and remains the most successful Japanese movie in history.

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