With only slight fanfare in the United States, “Howl’s Moving Castle” has joined an elite group of hit pics from non-English-speaking countries.
Since December, Japanese auds have spent more than $190 million on Hayao Miyazaki‘s animated tale of a teenager who falls for a dashing magician after being transformed into an old woman by a curse.
Worldwide total for the toon is $227 million — an impressive followup to Miyazaki’s 2001 Oscar winner “Spirited Away,” which grossed nearly $240 million in Japan alone, and his 1997 hit “Princess Mononoke,” which grossed $174 million worldwide.
That puts three Miyazaki pics on the short list of pics from non-English-speaking territories that have managed to top the $100 million mark internationally.
So why are they still niche releases Stateside?
Disney released “Howl’s” in the U.S., where it’s grossed $4 million since June.
The Mouse House has an ongoing relationship with Miyazaki, who’s been called the Walt Disney of Japan. Studio bagged $2 million with “Mononoke” in 1997 and expanded “Spirited Away” to more than 1,000 screens after it won the Oscar, and was able to push its U.S. gross to $10 million.
But the wider release added substantially to P&A costs, so with “Howl’s,” Disney is content with a smaller number of theaters.
Some at the Mouse House feel Miyazaki’s storytelling style doesn’t speak to mass auds in the U.S., where moviegoers like more linear, logical stories.
Jointly produced by Studio Ghibli and Toho, the film got is first international exposure at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it took the Osella award. The foreign rollout since then has been impressive — South Korea sparked to “Howl’s” in a major fashion with $18.9 million; France with more than $9 million; Hong Kong with $2.9 million and Taiwan with $2.6 million.
But B.O. figures suggest there is, indeed, a cultural divide between Asian and American movie tastes.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” tops all Asian films at the U.S. box office, with $128 million, but it took in only $81 million in the rest of the world, and was a flop in China and Hong Kong.