The Boy and the Heron

Source: Studio Ghibli courtesy of GKIDS

‘The Boy And The Heron’

The Boy And The Heron, the first film in 10 years from iconic animation director Hayao Miyazaki, has broken box office records on its opening weekend in Japan despite receiving no marketing push.

The Studio Ghibli film, which is locally titled Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka? (How Do You Live?), opened Friday (July 14) and earned $15.46m (Y2.14bn) over four days, which included Monday’s Marine Day national holiday. It was distributed by Toho, which supplied the figures.

It marks the biggest-ever opening weekend for Miyazaki as well as the highest-grossing opening weekend in Imax theatres, where it took $1.7m from 44 screens across Japan – the first Studio Ghibli film to open simultaneously on the large-screen format.

Comfortably landing in the top spot, The Boy And The Heron unseated Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny, which took $1.9m (Y267m) from Friday to Sunday, compared to the $11.7m (Y1.62bn) taken by Miyazaki’s animation over the same three days.

In third place was The Quintessential Quintuplets, an anime TV special with a limited cinema release, which took $1.37m (Y191m) over the three-day weekend and $1.6m (Y222m) over the four-day period.

The Boy And The Heron was released without a traditional promotional campaign, with just a title and a teaser poster, a strategy devised by Studio Ghibli president and the film’s producer Toshio Suzuki. Suzuki told national broadcaster NHK earlier this month: “When we were children, in our younger days, we enjoyed the anticipation before we saw a new film. We would see the poster and one or two lines of description and fill in the blanks with our imagination.”

The film, a fantasy epic which takes place in Japan during the Second World War, is ostensibly the final outing for Miyazaki, now aged 82. Japan’s most famous animation director spent seven years on the project at Studio Ghibli, the studio he co-founded to create films alongside the late Isao Takahata (Princess Kaguya) in the mid-1980s.

The director’s previous film, The Wind Rises, made $6.9m (Y960.8m) over its opening weekend in July 2013 from 454 screens. It went on to earn $86.4m (Y12bn) and was Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2013.

Japanese entertainment news site Natalie noted that The Boy And The Heron’s four-day gross surpassed that of Miyazaki’s highest-grossing feature, Spirited Away, which was released in 2001.

Spirited Away ultimately grossed $228.3m (Y31.68bn), making it Japan’s highest-grossing film of all time until 2020 when it was displaced by Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train. The director’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) are Japan’s 7th and 9th highest-grossing films, respectively. Howl’s Moving Castle was released on a Saturday, which used to be the standard in Japan, and earned $10.5bn (Y1.48bn) over two days.

Recent anime hits in Japan, where animation reigns supreme at the box office, include 2022’s One Piece Film: Red ($142m/Y19.7bn) and Suzume ($106.6m/Y14.79bn).

Studio Ghibli has previously faced difficulties in passing the baton to a younger generation of filmmakers. The studio was shuttered for a short time in 2014, during which staff members such as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There) and producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (Princess Kaguya) founded Studio Ponoc, whose The Imaginary comes out this winter.

Ghibli has released several films directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, and recently opened a theme park in Nagoya, central Japan.

The Boy And The Heron will be released theatrically in North America by Gkids later this year.