BERLIN – Hayao Miyazaki’s popular animated film “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (“Spirited Away”) shared the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear prize Sunday with “Bloody Sunday,” a British-Irish film about the troubles in Northern Ireland.
“This prize will be a great source of inspiration for people in the animation world,” Miyazaki said in a message read out at the 52nd annual film festival in Berlin.
It is the first time for an animated film to win the top prize in Berlin, one of the world’s pre-eminent film festivals.
The animated blockbuster, which was viewed by over 22 million people in Japan, shared the honor with British director Paul Greengrass’ dramatization of the 1972 massacre of civil rights marchers by British troops in Northern Ireland.
“Spirited Away” is the second Japanese film to win a Golden Bear in Berlin, the first being Tadashi Imai’s 1962 film “Bushido Zankoku Monogatari” (“Stories of Samurai Cruelty”).
In a news conference Sunday in Tokyo, Miyazaki, who did not attend the festival, said, “It’s not because it was an animation. I would like to think it was because the film itself was entertaining.”
The 61-year-old director, who is famed for churning out thought-provoking animated films, including the 1997 box-office hit “Mononoke Hime” (“Princess Mononoke”), expressed gratitude that his film was honored and treated as film.
“I’m afraid animation films are still differentiated from live-action films, and I don’t like that. That’s why I’m happy that my work was treated as a film,” Miyazaki told reporters.
The festival’s jury members lauded Miyazaki’s work for its rich imagination and sophisticated depiction of fantasy. Mira Nair, president of the film’s international jury, remarked on the film’s fusion of a strong Japanese identity with universal concepts.
“Spirited Away” is about a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, who suddenly finds herself working in a hot-spring resort that caters to spirits and gods after she and her parents wander through a tunnel.
Since it opened in July, the film has set box-office records in Japan. As of Friday, it had earned about 29.34 billion yen.
It is expected to be shown in Europe and the United States soon.
“I thought the film was a bit too Japanese to be appreciated. But I’m interested in the fact that Europeans appreciated it,” Miyazaki said.
Six animated films, including “Spirited Away,” ranked in the top-10 of Japan’s box-office records last year.
Film critic Tadao Sato said that although the quality of Japanese animation is known worldwide, film festivals had until now placed them on the sidelines.
“Film festivals are now forced to recognize the power of Japanese animation films. In this sense, it is a breakthrough,” Sato said.
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