New York Times and Sen to Chihiro

mark schilling 0934611501 at
Mon Jan 7 21:44:42 EST 2002

Bill Thompson describes James Brooke's NYT article on "Spirited Away" as
"positive and upbeat," which I suppose it is if you focus on the quotes from
fans, but from the rest of the piece it is clear that Brookes (1) didn't do
the legwork for his story and (2) is woefully ignorant of the country and

He says that Miyazaki "talks vaguely about one day opening the film in the
United States," but if he had read the trade press or listened carefully
during Katzenburg's Tokyo press conference, he would have known that (1)
Disney, though an investor in the film, has decided not to distribute it and
(2) Dreamworks is in talks with Studio Ghibli to release the film in the US.
Nothing vague about that.

He opines that the popularity of comics here is "a reflection of low
literacy rates due to the difficulty of learning Japanese characters," the
sort of ethnocentric howler he probably picked up at the Press Club bar.

He whines that a Studio Ghibli publicist would not "provide background
material on 'Chihiro,' subtitled versions of earlier films, or even a ticket
to Mr. Miyazaki's new studio museum." The necessary 'background material' is
freely available from Toho -- or indeed any theater selling the program. If
he needs English-language info, he could have easily found it on the
Nausicaa Net and other fan sites. As for subtitled versions of earlier
films, why should he expect Studio Ghibli to supply them? The logical place
to ask is the sales company, in this case, Disney. And why should Studio
Ghibli give him a free ticket to the museum, despite its reservations-only
policy? If they made an exception for him, they would have accommodate the
entire Japanese and foreign media. (Actually, they did, with a press tour
last fall that Mr. Brookes obviously didn't attend.) His whole plaint reeks
of entitlement -- but then what else should we expect from a recently
parachuted reporter for America's Newspaper of Record?

Finally, he mentions that Sen "fends off dragons and sorceresses while
trying to lift a curse on her parents." What "dragon" is he talking about?
Haku, who is Sen's ally? Are the parents "cursed"? A better word here, I
think, is "spell." Did this guy really see the movie? Comments anyone?

Mark Schilling

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Thompson" <siswt at CUVMC.AIS.COLUMBIA.EDU>
To: "KineJapan" <KineJapan at>
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2002 9:08 AM
Subject: New York Times and Sen to Chihiro

> Kinejapan ---
> The New York Times had an article on Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/
> Spirited Away, written by James Brooke, last Thursday.  It can be
> found at:
> and access to the article is free for seven days from publication
> (registration to the Times site is required, but that is also free).
> Overall, this is a positive and upbeat article about the success
> of the film in Japan and its response, containing very little
> that has not appeared in Kinejapan.
> For me, however, the interesting part appears near the end:
> "With the film opening this winter in Asia and in France, Mr.
> Miyazaki has talked vaguely about opening one day in the United
> States.  "Princess Mononoke," his only film to open commercially
> in the United States, bombed, drawing barely 2 percent of the $150
> million in box office revenue it had earned in Japan.
> "Not surprisingly, Studio Ghibli was in no rush to raise its
> American profile.  For this article, a publicist declined to arrange
> interviews with anyone from the studio  He would not provide
> any background material on 'Chihiro,' subtitled video versions
> of earlier films, or even a ticket to Mr. Miyazaki's new
> studio museum.
> "The publicist said, 'Other than my mother living in New York,
> I am not interested in this article being written.'"
> I realize that the American box office for Princess M may have been
> over-discussed in Kinejapan, but let me add a few observations
> (and these are simply my observations, with no facts
> to back them up) about its New York run.
> Princess Mononoke initially played as a special event as part
> of the 1999 New York Film Festival in October 1999, then
> opened a good month or so later, spaced to play well away
> from the big Disney animation of the season.  Its distributor
> also helped to coordinate a Miyazaki retrospective at the
> Museum of Modern Art in late September that was well
> attended and played in several other American and Canadian cities.
> Many papers run features on forthcoming seasons (i.e., the films
> that will play during the fall), and a couple included articles
> on Miyazaki's films and/or Princess M in September.  In fact
> they appeared to generate more interest then
> than when the film actually opened.
> The Times review during the NY Film Festival was favorable but
> lukewarm, certainly nothing to appeal to an art house crowd.
> I had trouble determining the desired audience from the ads
> which appeared at that time:  the film was positioned not as
> a young children's movie to keep the young Disney crowd
> from being disappointed;  it also did not seek an art house crowd.
> Instead, the ads implied that it was a kind of pure and basic
> entertainment animation film for adults (??? a G-rated film for
> adults?) that had something to do with ecology.  Perhaps this,
> plus the Miyazaki name, is enough to sell a film in Japan,
> but the US is not Japan.  A fair amount
> of money spent on these ads in NY when the film opened, probably
> more than the entire annual budgets for companies like Milestone
> or Kino (companies that have successfully distributed Japanese
> films in the US, albeit on small budgets).
> Even though Princess Mononoke did not do well commercially,
> its distributor did keep it in New York for a couple of extra
> months, and it helped to close the Greenwich Theater in the
> West Village (which I believe is now a construction site
> for a new apartment complex).   Although it played in several
> large cities around the US, when the distributor became
> disillusioned with the box office results, it did not try
> to open it more widely like a Milestone would have done.
> The Disney/Miramax people never realized what they had nor
> how to advertise it, and when throwing a bit of money at
> it didn't seem to work, they just stopped.
> Presumably because of this disappointment, other Miyazaki
> films have been released on video, but not theatrically,
> although titles like Kiki's Delivery Service have had
> special screenings as children's matinees in places like
> Lincoln Center.
> I'm not going to provide any moral here.
> I simply hope that I get to see Sen to Chihiro in New York
> some day.
> Bill Thompson

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