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Arts

'Spirited Away' to hit theaters in China in sign of Japan thaw

Beijing green-lights film ahead of Xi's visit to Japan

A scene from "Spirited Away," which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.   © 2001 Nibariki-TGNDDTM

BEIJING -- "Spirited Away," the Oscar-winning animated film by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, will appear in Chinese theaters nearly 20 years after its initial release as Beijing works to improve bilateral relations.

President Xi Jinping is scheduled to attend the G-20 summit in Osaka next month, visiting Japan for the first time since taking office in 2013. His government has been seeking to improve its economic and cultural ties with Japan since a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last October.

The expected screening of the 2001 film was first reported by local media, including the online Japanese version of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. China limits the number of foreign motion pictures that play in the country, and they require government approval.

The release will come on the heels of the Chinese debut of "My Neighbor Totoro," another beloved film from Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, last December, 30 years after its release in Japan. The first Miyazaki work to be screened in China was played in about 6,000 theaters and grossed close to 188 million yuan ($27.3 million) at the box office.

Despite Ghibli films' absence from theaters, many Chinese fans grew up with Miyazaki's works, given the widespread DVD piracy and illegal downloading.

"Spirited Away" 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 bath house 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 her friends' help.

Many fans in China regard the film as a coming-of-age masterpiece. Some see themselves in the characters, and the film's ending continues to inspire debate on social media.

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