In Japan, a country relatively unhurt by the coronavirus, cinemas have been gradually reopening since May. One beneficiary is Studio Ghibli, the country’s animation juggernaut.
For two weekends running, the studio has completely dominated the box office with catalogue re-releases. Both this week and last, the ranking was topped by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (1st), Princess Mononoke (2nd), and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (3rd). Tales from Earthsea, directed by Miyazaki’s son Goro, climbed from 9th to 8th. (Technically, Nausicaä isn’t a Ghibli production — Ghibli was founded shortly after the film’s release, and went on to hire many of the people who had worked on it at the studio Topcraft. The film has subsequently been folded into the Ghibli canon, and is often marketed as one of the studio’s works, including for this re-release.)
On June 26, the studio’s distributor Toho released the four features across 372 theaters under the slogan “Once in a lifetime, Ghibli in the cinema.” That’s ironic: we’re willing to wager most Japanese people have seen a Ghibli film in the cinema before. The studio’s films routinely top the box office — Spirited Away remains the top-grossing film of all time in Japan — and Hayao Miyazaki’s stature in the country is comparable to Walt Disney’s in the U.S. (Box office numbers were not immediately available, but will be updated later.)
These hugely popular family films make for no-brainer re-releases in a crisis. It’s tempting to take this result as a win for animation, but it says more about the enduring popularity of the Miyazaki/Ghibli brand in particular. There are no other animated films in the top ten, although the animation-heavy hybrids Dolittle and Sonic the Hedgehog came in at 5th and 7th.
It’s worth noting that Japan is one of the only places in the world where Ghibli’s catalogue can’t be legally streamed. The studio has struck deals with HBO Max, which now streams the films in the U.S., and Netflix, which offers them to the rest of the world — bar Japan and a few other territories. China is another of those excluded territories, although Ghibli films recently triumphed at the box office there, too.