Legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli made box office history this past weekend with the release of its latest film, “The Boy and the Heron.” The Hayao Miyazaki-directed feature grossed $12.8 million during its opening weekend to claim the number one spot at the North American box office. And world wide it has grossed over $97 million.
Not only is this Miyazaki’s highest-grossing opening weekend ever in North America, but “The Boy and the Heron” also became the first-ever original anime film (not a pre-existing franchise) to top the domestic box office charts. It surpassed past box office hits like “Demon Slayer” and “Dragon Ball” to set the new high water mark.
The whimsical fantasy film tells the story of a young boy named Mahito struggling to cope after his mother’s death during World War II. He goes to live with his aunt in the countryside, where he befriends an enigmatic gray heron that leads him on a magical adventure to a realm connecting life and death. Critics praised the film’s emotional impact and dazzling visual imagination.
Alongside the critical acclaim and record-setting box office bow, “The Boy and the Heron” also earned an “A-” CinemaScore from opening weekend audiences. This marks Miyazaki’s first film since his supposed retirement in 2013 following “The Wind Rises.” While the 82-year-old director has hinted this latest effort would be his last, the rousing response may convince him to return to animation again.
Miyazaki isn’t the only anime legend flexing his muscles, however. His Ghibli peer Isao Takahata’s final film “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” remains one of the most acclaimed animated films of the decade. And the box office charts featured another Japanese blockbuster in second place, with “Godzilla Minus One” bringing in a mighty $8.3 million haul in its sophomore frame.
The back-to-back successes speak to anime’s growing influence on mainstream Western audiences. As the U.S. box office weathers a slow period before blockbusters like “Wonka” and “Aquaman 2” arrive around Christmas, Japan’s thriving animation industry is picking up the slack and achieving historic benchmarks.
Expect the momentum to continue building in 2024 as Studio Ghibli looks to follow up this breakthrough hit. While Miyazaki mulls over one more directorial effort, the studio has also begun grooming his son Goro Miyazaki to follow in his father’s footsteps. The anime powerhouse boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to creative talent.
So despite murmurs of this being Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, the massive response to “The Boy and the Heron” ensures Studio Ghibli will endure as one of cinema’s most prestigious animation houses for years to come. Records are made to be broken, and anime is growing more mainstream by the day.