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‘The Boy and the Heron’ and ‘Godzilla Minus One’ break box office records

An image from the movie “The Boy and the Heron.” (Studio Ghibli/TNS)  (GKIDS/TNS)
By Tracy Brown Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – A pair of Japanese film titans reigned at the box office this weekend.

Animation great Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” took the top spot, earning a record-breaking $12.8 million for its opening weekend (the film premiered Nov. 22 in Los Angeles and New York). It’s the first original anime film ever to top the domestic box office chart and it marks the acclaimed filmmaker’s biggest opening ever in North America.

Anticipation was high for “The Boy and the Heron,” Miyazaki’s first film since 2013’s “The Wind Rises,” which at the time of release was purported to be the Studio Ghibli co-founder’s final film – much like this one. The film hit theaters in Japan in July without any traditional marketing and played the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Set during World War II, “The Boy and the Heron” is a fantasy coming-of-age story following young Mahito. After losing his mother in a hospital fire in Tokyo, Mahito is sent to a mansion in the countryside to live with his new stepmother, Natsuko (who is also his mother’s younger sister). There he encounters a menacing gray heron who leads him into a mysterious, magical realm.

“The very last moment in ‘The Boy and the Heron’ is the simplest, loveliest, most quietly shattering thing,” writes Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang in his review. “(T)he image itself defies description, as Miyazaki’s art often does … this parting shot feels like an end and a beginning, a departure and a return, a reminder of all the imaginative wonders that can spring from the dimmest recesses of a boy’s memory.”

The film currently sits with a 96% rating from critics and a 91% audience score at review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes as well as an A-minus in the poll from CinemaScore. Worldwide, “The Boy and the Heron” has grossed $97 million.

Joining Miyazaki in the box office top three is “Godzilla Minus One,” which made $8.3 million in its second weekend. The kaiju epic smashed records on its own, becoming the highest-grossing live-action Japanese film in North America with $25.3 million after having the biggest domestic opening of an international film this year at $11.4 million.

Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, “Godzilla Minus One” is the first Japanese film featuring the iconic kaiju since 2016’s “Shin Godzilla.” Godzilla has since expanded his Hollywood footprint with Legendary’s MonsterVerse entries “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019), “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021) and current AppleTV+ series “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.”

Set in post-World War II Japan, “Godzilla Minus One” returns the kaiju series to its roots as a commentary on nuclear war. The film garnered an impressive 97% from critics and 98% from audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, with an equally stellar A grade from CinemaScore.

“Yamazaki’s take on Godzilla is classical, utilizing the giant kaiju as a metaphor for social commentary, and his aesthetic is classical as well, combining a retro 1940s style with cutting-edge visual effects for one of the most striking Godzilla monsters we’ve seen in years,” writes Tribune News Service film critic Katie Walsh in her review. “The way its craggy fins break the surface of the ocean is almost photorealistic, and when Godzilla’s atomic-powered glowing spine bursts with power, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”

Coming in a strong second this week is the prequel film “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” which earned an estimated $9.4 million in its fourth weekend, bringing its overall domestic tally to $135.7 million. Rounding out the top five are a pair of animated features, Universal’s “Trolls Band Together,” which earned $6.2 million, and Disney’s “Wish,” which added $5.3 million to its domestic total. Last weekend’s box office winnerRenaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” dropped to sixth place with $5 million, bringing its total domestic gross to $28.1 million.

Rounding out the top 10 are “Napoleon,” with $4.2 million; “Waitress: The Musical,” with $3.2 million; “Animal,” with $2.3 million and “The Shift,” with $2.2 million.