Miyazaki toon expected to win weekend

TOKYO — Distrib Toho has announced that the Hayao Miyazaki toon “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” has scored 83 percent of Miyazaki’s 2001 megahit “Spirited Away” first day total, as of 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. “Sprited” went on to earn $284 million in Japan — an all-time BO record for the Japanese market

Released on July 19 on 481 screens — a record for a domestic pic — “Ponyo” is expected to win the weekend, beating out the live-action drama “Boys Over Flowers, which occupied the top spot three weeks running, as well as the new entry to the “Pocket Monsters” toon series, which also opened in Toho theaters on the 19th.

Posters on the popular 2Channel Internet bulletin board, however, claim that Toho is spinning “Ponyo”‘s opening figures. In fact, “Spirited” opened on only 336 screens and needed nearly a year to score its record numbers. It’s first day total was only 550 million yen ($5.1 million), which means that “Ponyo”‘s Saturday take was about 450 million yen ($4.2 million). Posters were also reporting empty seats at “Ponyo” screenings in Tokyo and elsewhere — a sharp contrast from previous Miyazaki pics that drew long lines and packed theaters from day one.

If the toon’s weekend total is double its Saturday number — that is, $8.2 million — it will be close to the opening take of “Tales from Earthsea,” a 2006 toon helmed by Miyazaki’s son Goro that finished with $71.5 million. Not shabby, but nowhere near “Spirited”‘s splenderifous BO.

The pic has gotten rave reviews — a critic for the popular Eiga.com site called it “a tidal wave bubbling over with imagination, a fantasy masterpiece that will revive the starving spirits of the Japanese people,” but it is also going head to head with “Pokemon,” a franchise whose last feature toon earned $47 million at the BO last year and whose current installment looks likely to finish its first weekend with $7.3 million, not far behind “Ponyo”‘s projected first total. Also, “Boys Over Flowers” is still drawing big crowds, including teens who might have otherwise joined the line for “Ponyo.”

But “Spirited Away” needed time to gain its record-breaking momentum — and “Ponyo,” skedded for a run well into the fall, has time on its side as well. The question is whether its slower-than-expected start is only a blip — or a sign that Miyazaki’s BO magic is starting to fade.

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