Walt Disney Co. has acquired North American rights to Hayao Miyazaki's smash animated hit Spirited Away, which has broken all box office records in Japan. Disney also bought rights to the film for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and France in previously concluded deals.

Meanwhile, sales agent Wild Bunch is handling other world rights to the film, excluding South Korea, and has recently concluded distribution deals for the UK, Switzerland, Italy and Russia.

Learning from Miramax's long-delayed and much-criticised North American release of Miyazaki's previous hit, Princess Mononoke, Disney is moving quickly to get Spirited Away released, possibly as early as July. The studio has already engaged Pixar creative chief John Lasseter to serve as creative consultant on the dubbed version of Spirited Away, though no voice casting choices have yet been announced.

Still on release seven months after its opening in Japan last July, Spirited Away is closing in on the Y30 billion ($226m) and 23 million admissions mark. Shortly after the film won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, Japanese distributor Toho announced that it would give Spirited Away an "encore" release on 130 screens, starting March 9.

Disney has been distributing Studio Ghibli films since a deal signed with Ghibli corporate parent Tokuma in 1997. The only North American theatrical release to emerge from that deal, however, was of Princess Mononoke, a 1997 Miyazaki animation that was the previous Japanese box office record-holder. It earned $2.37m after opening in October 1999 on 131 screens in 69 U.S. and Canadian cities, a disappointing showing considering its $150m gross receipts in Japan.

Set in present-day Japan, Spirited Away is a fantasy about a ten-year-old girl who finds herself in a mysterious world of goblins and gods. Though filmed in 2D animation, it makes the most extensive use of digital technology of any film in Studio Ghibli's seventeen-year history. Following its July release in Japan, it opened Hong Kong in December and then in Singapore and Taiwan. It is also to be shown in France in April.