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2001 - A Year in Review: Sen To Chihiro

2001 - A Year in Review: Sen to Chihiro

By Christopher Macdonald

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi - The latest theatrical release from renowned Anime creator Hayao Miyazaki. Together with his production company, Ghibli, Miyazaki is responsible for such Anime as Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds and Kiki's Delivery Service.

Having earned over $160 million at box offices around the world, Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki's previous film, had earned more than any other foreign film ever had, and had also become the number one film to ever be released on the Japanese market, pushing E.T. out of that position. While Mononoke remained the top ever grossing foreign film, its position as the top ever film at the Japanese box office was short lived. Only a few months after Mononoke was released, James Cameron's Titanic came along and earned over $200 million at the Japanese box office.

Walt Disney had purchased the rights to almost all of Ghibli's previous films, and has released some of them in the United States, either under the Walt Disney label, or the Buena Vista Home Entertainment label. Expecting Princess Mononoke to be oriented towards children, as had most of Miyazaki's previous productions, Disney purchased the rights to the film before they ever even knew anything about it. When Mononoke turned out to be a much more mature and dark film than Disney had anticipated, they were quite unsure what to do with it. Disney was however under contractual obligation to release it theatrically in the United States, so they gave it a limited theatrical release under their Miramax label. Mononoke earned a paltry $2 million dollars in the United States, compared to the in excess of $160 million dollars the film had earned worldwide, this was an embarrassment for Disney. Disney also funded the production of Miyazaki's next film, Sen to Chihiro.

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, popularly referred to as Sen to Chihiro or even Sen, has returned the Japanese Box office crown to a Japanese production. TOHO, the company responsible for the distribution of Sen to Chihiro (and the company behind the famed Godzilla series) announced on November 13th that as of November 11th Sen to Shihiro had earned 26.2 billion yen at the Japanese box office, breaking Titanic's record. As of January 11th Sen to Chihiro has earned a total of 30 billion yen (US$227 Million) and continues to play in 196 theatres around the nation.

As Sen to Chihiro begins showing internationally, it has debuted in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan and is expected to be shown in France in January, there is already talk of another American blockbuster re-claiming the top box office spot in Japan. Harry Potter: The Philosopher's Stone, whose novels are already very popular in Japan, has sold three times as many pre-sale tickets in Japan as did Sen to Chihiro. (Movie tickets are often sold several days to weeks in advance of a movie premier in Japan; they are generally sold along with some sort of exclusive promotion, a Harry Potter watchband in this case).

Meanwhile, North American fans anxiously await news of a North American release of Sen to Chihiro. It had been generally assumed that since Walt Disney put money into the production of Sen, they would have exclusive rights to the North American release of Sen to Chihiro. However, it was recently announced that Tokuma, the parent company of Ghibli, is currently in negotiation with both Disney and DreamWorks for a possible North American release of Sen to Chihiro. This would suggest that Disney only has the "right to first refusal" and that should Disney not be interested in releasing Sen to Chihiro in North America it will be possible for other companies, such as DreamWorks, to release the title.

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