Studio Ghibli's Domestic Grosses

A was talking a little while ago about Japan's domestic grosses, and how they differ from the box-office grosses in America. It's always a bit tricky to make direct comparisons, since Japan has a much smaller population, far fewer movie screens, and a far smaller domestic film industry. Like the rest of the world, their home-grown movie business has pretty much collapsed in favor of Hollywood blockbusters.

Oliver Coombes compiled a list of Studio Ghibli's domestic grosses at the appendix to his Pom Poko essay (see links). I decided to reprint the list here, with a few alterations. One, I consulted Box Office Mojo for The Cat Returns' grosses. Unfortunately, their records only go back a few years, so I couldn't obtain numbers for anything before 2002.

Also, I converted the numbers into US Dollars, using the current exchange rate of $1 = 118.778 Yen. One major caveat - I don't know if these numbers were adjusted for inflation. Probably not. I think these were the final tallies at the time, or numbers that are very close.

In any case, caveat emptor. Don't quote these numbers as if they're the Gospel. I'm only showing these numbers as a comparison, and as an education tool.

One additional note: I wasn't able to find numbers for My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, which appeared in Japan as a double bill. Coombes writes that the numbers were still below Nausicaa, and it's well known that they didn't earn a profit.

Also, I haven't found any numbers for 1995's Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart). I am aware that the movie was a hit, enough so that tour guides started offering tours of the sights from the movie (set in suburban Tokyo).

The first Ghibli movie to turn a profit was Kiki's Delivery Service in 1989. Since then, every film has become the top-grossing domestic film for its year. Most of the time, the American movies drew the largest audiences, although Takahata is proud that his Pom Poko beat out Disney's The Lion King in 1994.

Ghibli's winning streak was only broken in 1999, when My Neighbors the Yamadas went over like a lead balloon. Unfairly, I might add. Again, kids, everybody in Japan preferred to spend the summer with...Jar Jar. Ugh. What were they thinking?!

Studio Ghibli Domestic Grosses (US Dollars; $1 = 118.778 Yen)

1984 - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind - 6, 230, 110
1986 - Laputa: Castle in the Sky - 4, 883, 059
1988 - My Neighbor Totoro - n/a
1988 - Grave of the Fireflies - n/a
1989 - Kiki's Delivery Service - 18, 100, 955
1991 - Omohide Poro Poro - 15, 575, 275
1992 - Porco Rosso - 23, 573, 389
1993 - Umi Ga Kikoeru - television
1994 - Pom Poko - 22, 142, 148
1995 - Whisper of the Heart - n/a
1997 - Mononoke Hime - 162, 488, 003
1999 - My Neighbors the Yamadas - 6, 903, 365
2001 - Spirited Away - 255, 939, 652
2002 - The Cat Returns - 50, 590, 057
2004 - Howl's Moving Castle - 159, 962, 283


Anonymous said...

I'd like to know the US grosses over time for My Neighbor Totoro (I guess it would be US domestic sales of the DVD at this point; was the film ever theatrically released in the US?).

Anyway, I actually think it's kind of funny about My Neighbor the Yamadas. I personally love the film (it's one of my favorites), but its loosely episodic nature and its style were a gamble, I would think, for crowds looking for a linear, predominantly single plot-thread narrative structure. I can just imagine the reactions. :-) I wish they'd make more like it though!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I think it's also safe to say that Japanese audiences wanted another movie like Mononoke. They wanted another Kurosawa action epic. Takahata went in the exact opposite direction.

There's a concern that the public is so enamoured with Miyazaki now, that they'll never accept anyone else. This is something Goro is learning the hard way, with Tales From Earthsea. It's hard to say.

I don't think the movie's episodic style would have been a hindrance. Most of the Ghibli films follow an episodic structure, although they're more tightly would together. Jarinko Chie is the closet the Yamadas, and that was a success - enough so to spawn a popular TV series.

I think what happened at the box office with Yamadas was just a combination of many factors. Again, it went up against Pokemon and Phantom Menace. I think even Miyazaki would have a fight on his hands under those conditions.

Oliver_Coombes said...

My trusty copy of Sengo Kinema Junpo might have the box-office figures for Whisper of the Heart in it. Shall I go take a look?

I mentioned in the epilogue to my essay that The Cat Returns made 6.46 billion yen (source: Sengo Kinema Junpo) -- does that agree with the Box Office Mojo figure?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Actually, 6.46 billion yen comes to around $54 million. I'm just using the calculator on Windows and doing basic 'rithmatic, just so you know.

As I've said, these aren't numbers that should be set in stone. First, they haven't been adjusted for inflation, which would show larger numbers for the earlier pictures (there's a reason Nausicaa remains so popular). Second, I have read final numbers for Miyazaki's last three features that were higher than these, if only slightly. Saying that Mononoke broke $150m is more of a milestone than anything.

I don't want to become obsessed over box office returns. I think it's a horrible concept that has done more to destroy Hollywood over the past quarter-century than anything. And the rise of high-school gossip shows like Entertainment Tonight have conditioned the public to accept numbers as Gospel Truth.

Pauline Kael wrote the definitive piece on modern Hollywood called, "Why Are the Movies So Bad? Or, The Numbers." Reading, you begin to understand how destructive the current reign of profit-hungry conglomerates are to the movies.

My motive for showing Studio Ghibli's numbers is because of the recent Times article on Goro Miyazaki, which labeled Gedo Senki a disappointment, because it made "only" $60 million. Looking properly, we can see that the movie is an unqualified success, and any comparisons to Mononoke, Sen, and Howl are patently absurd and completely unfair. To judge by those standards, all American movies besides Gone With The Wind, Star Wars, E.T., The Ten Commandments, and The Sound of Music are failures.

I mean, hey, why couldn't your movie pull in $800 million? What's wrong with you?

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