At the 75th Academy Awards, Hayao Miyazaki’s Soul land won the award for best animated feature film for the second year of the category’s existence – and to this day it’s the only hand-drawn feature (mostly computer used sparingly) to win the honor.
Eighth film from Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli – after classics like 1988 Totoro my neighbor and in 1997 Princess Mononoke – is set in a local bathhouse in Bunkyo, the district of Tokyo, where the writer-director was born. Miyazaki, then 59 years old, wrote a screenplay about 10-year-old Chihiro as she tries to save her parents, who were turned into pigs after eating cursed food. She takes a job at a supernatural bathhouse run by a witch. There, she meets a masked figure known as No-Face, a “stinky spirit” resembling Jabba the Hutt from a polluted river, and Haku, a 12-year-old conjugator transformed into a dragon. .
Made on a budget of $19 million ($30 million in 2021) – 10% of which is covered by Disney, the company that handles US distribution and English dubbing – Soul land brought in $275 million worldwide ($430 million today), surpassing Titanic It became the highest-grossing film in Japan for 19 years. With subsequent reruns, the coming-of-age fantasy grossed an additional $85 million at the box office.
As Miyazaki said in 2002, “If you live right with joy, wonder, and empathy, you don’t have to be violent and you don’t have to act.”
This story first appeared in the independent November issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.