Spirited Away finally premieres in China…but hardly anybody was at the cinema to see it.

Since its Japanese premiere back in 2001, Studio Ghibli’s anime film Spirited Away has been shown in dozens of countries around the world, becoming the highest-earning anime in Japan.

However, there’s been one country missing from Spirited Away‘s long list of worldwide premieres, as Chinese audiences have been waiting 18 years to see the film make its official debut in their country.

Thankfully, that all changed this month, when the anime classic premiered in China on 21 June, along with some beautiful posters featuring the local cast and characters to help celebrate the momentous occasion.

Being diehard Ghibli fans ourselves, we wanted to join in with the celebrations, so we sent our reporter Ikuna Kamezawa over to China to attend a viewing and give us a firsthand report on what it was like.

After landing in China, Ikuna whipped out her phone and checked the app she’d pre-installed, which had information on the different times and locations where she could see the film.

Eager to be part of one of the first audiences to watch the film on its opening day, Ikuna booked herself a ticket to the 9:45 a.m. screening, and arrived an hour earlier at the mall where the cinemas were located.

She was expecting to see queues of people, with some maybe wearing No Face masks, lined up in anticipation of the big event. However, when she arrived, there was nobody around and the mall wasn’t even open. After enquiring with a staff member at the door, she was told to come back closer to the screening time, and when she did, the staff member opened the door for her and allowed her into the building, which looked like this.

It was dark and eerie, which wasn’t what she was expecting at all, but strangely, the quiet, lifeless surroundings made her feel like she’d been spirited away to a world that was new and unknown.

After picking up her ticket at the box office, she walked past some closed restaurants, where there was nobody but Pikachu to greet her.

She figured that maybe the crowds of Ghibli fans had already entered the cinema, so she headed towards the “Spirited Away” signs and went inside.

▼ And this was what she saw.

Well, admittedly, this screening was on a weekday morning, which explained the lack of crowds. But this??? In a country of over a billion people, Ikuna had perhaps walked into the least populated place she could find, with just over a handful of other cinema-goers in the room.

▼ She checked her ticket and wasn’t mistaken: This was an early screening on 21 July, Spirited Away‘s official opening day.

Still, Ikuna, was looking forward to seeing Spirited Away again, and after watching the movie she realised how much better it is on the big screen. As it turns out, the screening she attended wasn’t dubbed in Chinese, so it had subtitles and featured the voice cast from the original film. Although she’d seen the movie more than ten times in her life, it was mostly on the small screen at home, so to see the magical story play out before her eyes in a cinema setting made everything seem that much more wonderful.

When she made her way out into the mall again, it was brighter and more alive than before, and she noticed all the posters that had been set up in honour of the movie.

There was also a small branch of Japan’s Donguri Kyowakoku retail chain, which specialises in Studio Ghibli merchandise.

Showing your ticket stub here gets you a free commemorative Spirited Away pin, which Ikuna was thrilled to receive.

After attending the screening, Ikuna spoke to her friends in China and asked them why so few people were at the screening on opening day. They told her that most Chinese fans of the anime studio have seen pirated versions of the film already, so it wasn’t like it was a never-before-seen movie being released. Her friends said they would be going to see the film at the cinema now that it was in China, but there was no rush to see it on opening day.

Plus, when Ikuna asked why fans weren’t lined up in masks and costumes, to celebrate the arrival of the new film in cinemas, her friends simply told her that Chinese audiences don’t usually cosplay like that at movie openings. Ikuna, however, loves nothing more than getting into the Ghibli spirit, especially when it means she gets to ride the Catbus from My Neighbour Totoro.

Ikuna was happy to see Spirited Away outside of its home country, and despite the poor attendance at her screening, the film reportedly earned approximately 32 million yuan (US$4.7 million) across China on its opening day — smashing the Toy Story debut, which earned $1.5 million in China on the same day.

With Sen and her crew of magical characters beating Woody and pals on the opening weekend, it looks likely that Spirited Away will now be following in the footsteps of My Neighbour Totoro, which grossed more than 80 percent of the movie’s 20-year-plus worldwide earnings in just one month when it was released in China last year.

Photos © SoraNews24
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