TOKYO Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki of Oscar-winning animated film "Spirited Away" has captured the hearts of Japanese moviegoers again, this time with a tale of a mermaid which will soon be seen around the world.
"Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," about the friendship between a five-year-old boy and a mermaid girl who wishes to live in his world, has become one of the most popular Japanese movies in its home market in its first month of release.
Box office sales have surpassed 10 billion yen ($91 million), and the film's theme tune features as a ringtone on thousands of Japanese mobile phones.
The film is also set to be shown at the Venice Film Festival, which starts next week, and then it will be distributed in the United States, said a spokesman for Japanese distributor, Toho Co Ltd, although details have not been set.
"It was full of dreams and heart-warming. I think many people are seeking something like this," said 39-year-old Miyuki Ueda, who watched the film with her sons.
"Ponyo was really cute," said Yuta, her 14-year-old son.
Miyazaki has released a string of hit animation films that have helped revive the Japanese movie industry, directing three of the top five selling movies in Japan in the past seven years, industry figures from the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan show.
As well as 2001's "Spirited Away," about a little girl who wanders into a spirit world and which won an Academy Award for best animated film in 2003, Miyazaki has wooed Japanese filmgoers with 2004's "Howl's Moving Castle," about a boy wizard who fights for justice in a magical world.
Ponyo's story line is similar to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," which was also the basis of 1989's popular Disney animated film by the same name.
"Spirited Away" launched Miyazaki on to the world stage, but film critic Ryusuke Hikawa says it's too early to say if "Ponyo" would be as successful.
"Miyazaki sticks to creating animated films by hand-drawing. In that sense his works are old-type animation," he said.
"But that's what makes them universally appealing."
In 2006, local films outperformed foreign movies in Japanese movie theaters for the first time in 21 years.
While Miyazaki did not have a movie that year, his son, Goro Miyazaki, carried on the family tradition with animated cartoon, "Tales of Earthsea," based on a U.S. tale of two battling wizards. The film was the top grossing movie in Japan in 2006.
(Editing by Rodney Joyce and Miral Fahmy)