NEW YORK — For the first time in Hayao Miyazaki's decades-spanning career, the 82-year-old Japanese anime master is No. 1 at the North American box office. Miyazaki's latest enchantment, “The Boy and the Heron,” debuted with $12.8 million, according to studio estimates.
“The Boy and the Heron,” the long-awaited animated fantasy from the director of “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and other cherished anime classics, is only the third anime to ever top the box office in U.S. and Canadian theaters, and the first original anime to do so. The film, which is playing in both subtitled and dubbed versions, is also the first fully foreign production to land atop the domestic box office this year.
Though Miyazaki's movies have often been enormous hits in Japan and Asia, they've traditionally made less of a mark in North American cinemas. The director's previous best performer was his last movie, 2013's “The Wind Rises,” which grossed $5.2 million in its entire domestic run.
“It's really a resounding statement for what animation can be," said Eric Beckman, founder and chief executive of GKIDS, the North American distributor for Studio Ghibli films. "American audiences have been ready for a lot more than what they've been getting, and I think this really points to that direction.”
“The Boy and the Heron" for years was expected to be Miyazaki's swan song. But just as it was making its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Junichi Nishioka, Studio Ghibli vice president, said the previously retired Miyazaki has begun working toward another film.
“The Boy and the Heron,” has been hailed as one of the best films of the year. The film, featuring an English dub voice cast including Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Dave Bautista and Mark Hamill, follows a boy who, after her mother perishes in World War II bombing, is led by a mysterious heron to a portal that takes him to a fantastical realm. In Japan, its title translates to “How Do You Live?”
“The Boy and the Heron” earlier collected $56 million in Japan despite zero promotion. Studio Ghibli opted to release the film without production stills, trailers, ads or billboards.
The U.S. and Canadian release included conventional advertising but was similarly handled with the care of something truly special as a Miyazaki movie. Throughout this year, all 10 of Miyazaki's films with Ghibli were rereleased in theaters by GKIDS, which was founded in 2008 as way to bring ambitious animation to wider audiences.
“Working on a Hayao Miyazaki film is a huge honor but also kind of terrifying,” Beckman said. “We’re really just trying to do justice to the film."
Last week's top film, “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” dropped steeply in its second weekend. The concert film, the second pop star release distributed by AMC Theatres following Taylor Swift's “The Eras Tour,” collected $5 million in its second weekend, a decline of 76% from its $21 million opening.
That allowed Lionsgate's still-going-strong “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” to take second place, with an estimated $9.4 million in its fourth weekend of release. The “Hunger Games” prequel has a domestic haul of $135.7 million.
“The Boy and the Heron” wasn't the only Japanese film that ranked among the top movies in theaters over the weekend. “Godzilla Minus One" followed up its stellar debut last weekend with $8.3 million for Toho Studios. Takashi Yamazaki's acclaimed kaiju movie dipped just 27% in its second weekend of release, bringing its total to $25 million.
Several potential awards contenders got off to strong starts in limited release. Yorgos Lanthimos' warped fantasy “Poor Things,” starring Emma Stone, opened with $644,000 from nine theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, Texas. “Poor Things” expands in more theaters next week.
Ava DuVernay's “Origin,” played an Oscar-qualifying run in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles with a per screen average of $58,532 for Neon. It stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as the author Isabel Wilkerson while she investigates race and inequality for her book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents." “Origin” opens wide Jan. 19.
“Wonka,” one of the holiday season’s most anticipated releases, kicked off its overseas run with $43.2 million from 37 international markets. The film, starring Timothée Chalamet and directed by “Paddington” filmmaker Paul King, is expected to lead U.S. and Canada ticket sales next weekend. AP