LOS ANGELES - Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film at the 75th Annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday.
The film, “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” in Japan, competed against four U.S. movies: “Lilo & Stitch,” “Ice Age,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” and “Treasure Planet.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced the animated feature film category last year, with the first award going to “Shrek.”
It was the first time that a Japanese has won an Oscar since Keiko Ibi won the best short documentary award for “The Personals” in 1998.
The last time a Japanese feature film won an Oscar was in 1995 when “Miyamoto Musashi” was chosen as best foreign movie.
“Spirited Away” had been strongly favored to win, with critics praising its creativity and visual effects. The New York Times called it the Japanese equivalent of the 1938 Disney masterpiece “Snow White.”
The movie had already won the best animation awards from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle.
Created at Studio Ghibli, “Spirited Away” was released in the United States on Sept. 20 and had taken in $5.6 million as of March 20.
It was a blockbuster in Japan, grossing more than 30 billion yen and drawing an audience of around 23 million since its release in July 2001, surpassing the records set by the U.S. movie “Titanic.”
“Spirited Away” tells the tale of Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who gets lost in a world inhabited by spirits and gods.
Other hit movies by Miyazaki include “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), and “Princess Mononoke” (1997).
Koji Yamamura’s “Mt. Head,” a 10-minute movie, was nominated in the animated short film category but did not win.
The audience applauded loudly when actress Cameron Diaz announced “Spirited Away” as the Oscar winner. They looked around for Miyazaki to accept the prize, but the director was not present.
Officials at Studio Ghibili, which produced the movie, said Miyazaki is currently working on his next animated film, which is based on a story by Diana Wynne Jones.
Security was tight at this year’s awards, held at the Kodak Theatre, due to the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Special precautions were taken against terrorist threats, and planes were banned from flying above the theater.
The ceremony was also toned down, and journalists did not interview celebrities entering the theater.