It'snow official -- the big match-up of the coming Christmas season will be HayaoMiyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, scheduled to open on November 20,versus Pixar's The Incredibles, set for release on December 4.
Thissort of big head-to-head box office battle is a first between the two animationheavyweights - and is sure to be bitterly fought by distributors Toho and BuenaVista .
IronicallyMiyazaki and Pixar's John Lasseter are the best of friends - Lasseter visitsMiyazaki's Studio Ghibli every time he comes to Tokyo and a poster signed byLassiter and Pixar animators graces the Ghibli entrance.
Given his track record, Miyazaki should win the contesthands down. His last film, Spirited Away, grossed $279m at the Japanesebox office, an all-time record for any film, domestic or foreign. Pixar's FindingNemo broke Spirited's opening weekend record last December with$10.2m and 900,447 admissions on 720 screens, but finished under the $100mmark.
In the first weeks, however, the advantage should go to TheIncredibles, which will open on nearly 750 screens, compared with only 200to 300 for Howl's. Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki, whomasterminded the releases of Spirited Away and other Miyazaki hits,prefers the traditional long-but-profitable-run -- Spirited was in thetheatres for the better part of a year -- to the Hollywood strategy of goingfor broke on the first weekend.
Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have been thumping Disneyreleases head-to-head at the Japanese box office for more than a decade, withMiyazaki's Porco Rosso nearly doubling the take of Beauty And TheBeast.
Miyazaki films have long been summer releases, however -- Howl'swas supposed to open in July, but production delays forced a switch toNovember. Also, despite its Disney connections, Pixar is seen as a separatebrand by Japanese filmgoers -- with a 3-D product that Japanese animatorscannot yet technically match. Will the different date and competition throwGhibli off its stride' Don't bet on it -- the Japanese market is stillMiyazaki's house and, though he may invite friends to stay, he is not ready tohand over the deed.