It turns out Hayao Miyazaki had nothing to worry about.
Prior to the release of his highly anticipated latest feature, The Boy and the Heron, in Japan on Friday, the legendary animator reportedly expressed some worries about Studio Ghibli’s unprecedented plan to do no marketing at all for the movie — no trailers, no TV ads, not even an announced plot summary or cast. Two weeks before the release, Ghibli co-founder and president Toshio Suzuki revealed at an event in Tokyo Miyazaki was a little anxious about the decision to do zero publicity for what is expected to be his final film. “I do believe in you, Mr. Suzuki,” Miyazaki said. “But I’m concerned…”
Suzuki reportedly defended his strategy by saying: “In my opinion, in this age of so much information, the lack of information is entertainment. I don’t know if this will work. But as for me, I believe in it.”
Needless to say, Miyazaki is now probably feeling reassured.
The Boy and the Heron earned $13.2 (1.83 billion yen) from Friday to Sunday, according to ComScore. In yen, that’s the biggest opening in Studio Ghibli history, beating Howl’s Moving Castle‘s 1.48 billion yen debut in 2004 (The yen is currently trading at historic weakness relative to the dollar, so when exchanged to dollars, Howl actually earned slightly more at $14 million). In Imax, The Boy and the Heron opened to $1.7 million from 44 screens, setting a new 3-day record for the giant screen operator in Japan.
Japan is a famously slow-burn theatrical market, though, so a movie’s hold and word of mouth tend to matter far more than its initial splash. From its $14 million start, Howl’s Moving Castlefor example, eventually climbed to $190 million over a local release that lasted 407 days.
No major Western outlets have reviewed The Boy and the Heron yet, but Japan-based media have described the film as offering an experience of “truly astounding” visual beauty and deep philosophical messages. Overall, the film has been summed up as more adult and enigmatic than much of the Ghibli catalog — potentially requiring repeat viewings to fully appreciate.
The Boy and the Heron will be released in North America by specialty distributor GKIDS sometime later this year. On the festival circuit, insiders are already buzzing about a potential international premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival, where Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008) and The Wind Rises (2013) all received their first screenings outside Japan.
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