“Toy Story 4,” the unexpected new installment to the iconic computer-animated franchise by Pixar and Disney, has the curious distinction of opening its cinematic release somewhat below projected figures, but still go strong on its first box office weekend. For Disney, this was proof that despite the perceived superfluous nature of another sequel when the third film was already an appropriately thematic conclusion, fans will still flock to Pixar’s most successful creation. The same story of box office success should be expected domestically and overseas. But in the behemoth market of China, “Toy Story 4” was beaten by a surprise competition: an “old” anime masterpiece.
BBC News has it that on the release of “Toy Story 4” in Chinese theaters the week before, it found itself head to head with “Spirited Away,” an award-winning Japanese anime film by acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki. This is notable considering the film was released all the way back in 2001 in Japan, and is only finally being screened in China for the first time. With the premiere of Friday, June 21, “Spirited Away” would go on to earn $27.7 million on its debut weekend, compared to the $13.2 million take of “Toy Story 4.”
Such a victory over a supposedly sure win from Disney-Pixar is pretty impressive for an anime movie that is just two years short of being two decades old. On the one hand it is a vindication that its creator Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli remains Japan’s best answer to the American Disney juggernaut in terms of quality animated productions. On the other hand, it also speaks of the sheer affection Chinese have for “Spirited Away” which they would have first seen on the notorious video piracy market. That they would now support an official release of the film speaks volumes for their nostalgia for it.
It took this long for “Spirited Away” to premiere in Chinese cinemas due to the long-running political tensions between the People’s Republic and Japan, stemming from World War II. China not only has a strict quota of foreign movies allowed to be released in a year, they are also tougher on Japanese media. It is only through recent collaborative productions between studios of the two countries that the relationship has begun to mend even slowly. And if “Toy Story 4” must lose to any other animation, “Spirited Away” is more than worthy to claim victory.
Remarkably, “Spirited Away” was given an official English dub by Disney itself, releasing stateside in 2002. Cinema screenings in the US would spike immensely when it won Best Animated Feature in the 2003 Academy Awards. Despite the heartwarming plot of “Toy Story 4,” it just could not compete with that.
Image from Yahoo News Philippines