Stu­dio Ghi­bli’s ‘Spir­ited Away’ bests Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 4’ in China

Global Times US Edition - - LIFE - By Liu Zhongyin Page Ed­i­tor: xuli­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

The Chi­nese main­land box of­fice has been quite cool this June unlike the hot tem­per­a­tures the month has ex­pe­ri­ence. Not a sin­gle film man­aged to break the 1 bil­lion yuan ($146 mil­lion) mark, a far cry from the sen­sa­tion Avengers: Endgame caused in April and May and The Wan­der­ing Earth achieved in Fe­bru­ary and March.

Two im­ported an­i­mated films that both de­buted on June 21 have been go­ing headto-head to at­tract Chi­nese movie­go­ers: Spir­ited Away from Japan’s Stu­dio Ghi­bli and US an­i­ma­tion stu­dio Pixar’s Toy Story 4.

Chi­nese au­di­ences are im­mensely fa­mil­iar with Ja­panese an­i­ma­tor Hayao Miyazaki’s representa­tive work in which a 10-year-old girl named Chi­hiro Ogino un­ex­pect­edly en­ters a mys­te­ri­ous world from which she has to es­cape and res­cue her par­ents who have been turned into pigs. Al­though the film didn’t come to the Chi­nese main­land when it de­buted in 2001, it has earned mil­lions of fans in the re­gion over the years. It ranks among the top 10 movies on the top 250 film list on Chi­nese me­dia re­view plat­form Douban with a score of 9.3/10.

Af­ter a nine-year break, Toy Story 4 is the lat­est se­quel in the an­i­ma­tion fran­chise that first got its start in 1995,

as such Chi­nese au­di­ences are very fa­mil­iar with the char­ac­ters and world of the film. Open­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously in China and North Amer­ica, the film had a very suc­cess­ful open­ing in North Amer­ica but was am­bushed by Spir­ited Away in the Chi­nese main­land. The open­ing week­end box of­fice for the Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion was 193 mil­lion yuan, more than dou­ble Toy Story 4’s 91.11 mil­lion yuan take. As of Mon­day morn­ing, af­ter 11 days in the the­ater, the gap be­tween the two films re­mains large, with Spir­ited Away sit­ting at 379 mil­lion and Toy Story 4 at 169 mil­lion. Self-ex­plo­ration

In reviews on Douban, many Chi­nese ne­ti­zens noted that while they felt 2010’s Toy Story 3 pro­vided the per­fect end­ing to the an­i­ma­tion se­ries, the new se­quel was still able to sur­prise them. Toy Story 4 sees pull­string cow­boy Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) head out on a road trip with Forky, a new toy who is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an iden­tity cri­sis since he was made from trash.

Unlike the previous movies in which the toys try to find hap­pi­ness by bring­ing joy to chil­dren, this se­quel per­mits the toys to think about their in­de­pen­dence and what they ac­tu­ally want and en­cour­ages them to fol­low their inner voices. This self-ex­plo­ration is also sim­i­lar to the themes Spir­ited Away tack­les with. For ex­am­ple, one char­ac­ter Nigi­hayami Ko­hakunushi loses his free­dom be­cause he for­gets his name, peo­ple who are turned into an­i­mals and for­get they are hu­man and a face­less man is rich, but feels a void in­side since he doesn’t know who he is and where he comes from.

The two films both fea­ture sto­ries of ad­ven­ture and self­ex­plo­ration, but the depth of thoughts and the re­ac­tions of the main char­ac­ters are very dif­fer­ent.

Vet­eran film critic Lin Xi told the Global Times that Spir­ited Away re­veals the com­plex­ity of hu­man­ity and strikes at au­di­ences’ hearts with plain ap­pear­ances.

“Some char­ac­ter rep­re­sent peo­ple who wear masks. Some char­ac­ter rep­re­sents mer­ce­nar­ies. It ques­tions who peo­ple are and what their souls are like. Peo­ple who can truly un­der­stand this an­i­ma­tion must have a lot of life ex­pe­ri­ences,” Lin noted, adding that for this rea­son the film is able to cap­ture the hearts of adults as well as chil­dren.

Toy Story 4, on the con­trary, is more re­lax­ing and en­ter­tain­ing. The fran­chise is es­pe­cially suit­able for chil­dren be­cause it teaches them how to co­op­er­ate with oth­ers and help them. Al­though the cur­rent film has be­gun ex­plor­ing philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions, it is not as in­ten­sive as Spir­ited Away.

“It’s par­ents look­ing to go to the cinema with their kids that choose Toy Story 4. The au­di­ence base is smaller than that of Spir­ited Away,” Lin noted.

Cul­tural dif­fer­ences

Al­though the char­ac­ters in both movies are go­ing on ad­ven­tures, they re­act quite dif­fer­ently. Ac­cord­ing to Lin, the char­ac­ters in Spir­ited Away are fo­cused on ex­ert­ing and es­ca­lat­ing their inner power in re­sponse to a hideous en­vi­ron­ment.

The char­ac­ters in Spir­ited Away don’t talk a lot but they man­age to use their de­ter­mi­na­tion to change their sit­u­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, Chi­hiro, the hero­ine, be­come a coura­geous girl and over­come all the chal­lenges she is pre­sented with al­though she ap­pears weak in the be­gin­ning of the film. This re­flects the re­stricted char­ac­ter­is­tics of Asian peo­ple, who em­pha­size the power of the mind, which makes Chi­nese au­di­ences eas­ily re­late to the film. The char­ac­ters in Toy Story 4, how­ever, are dif­fer­ent. When they come across a prob­lem, they discuss things and come up with strate­gies to­gether. The film also has a ma­jor fo­cus on com­edy. This di­rect way of solv­ing problems and their open at­ti­tudes, with the char­ac­ters some­times voic­ing what they are think­ing, are com­mon fea­tures of Hol­ly­wood an­i­ma­tions. One of the rea­sons Chi­nese au­di­ences have flocked to see Spir­ited Away is the art style. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Miyazaki drew tens of thou­sands of frames by hand for the film. This type of an­i­ma­tion is still alive and well in Asia due to its pop­u­lar­ity, while Hol­ly­wood films like Toy Story 4, have al­ready moved on to all com­puter an­i­ma­tion.

Photo: Cour­tesy of Maoyan Photo: IC

Pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial for Spir­ited Away Below: Pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial for Toy Story 4

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