Why Princess Mononoke only made $2.3m in the U.S.

A fascinating BBC article about why Princess Mononoke bombed in America is titled "the masterpiece that flummoxed the US", but it's really about how badly Disney and co. handled Studio Ghibli movies despite explosive interest in anime in the U.S. They knew enough to hire Neil Gaiman to write an English script for Mononoke, for example, but his work ended up trampled in committee and then by someone "whose job was to make sure the words aligned with the characters' mouth movements."

Princess Mononoke did not perform particularly well in the United States, grossing just $2.3 million domestically. There is a popular idea that this was because a US audience raised on the broad, all-singing, all-dancing animations of Disney were simply not ready for a film like Princess Mononoke. It's an opinion that Miyazaki arguably shares himself. In 1988, he gave a lecture on Japanese animation that included the line: "There are few barriers to entry into [animated] films – they will invite anyone in – but the barriers to exit must be high and purifying… The barrier to both the entry and exit of Disney films is too low and too wide. To me, they show nothing but contempt for the audience."

Coming into this story, you're likewise thinking the western movie executives didn't get the grown-up Japanese mythic storytelling at hand—a ready narrative of cultural ignorance and arrogance. And it is that. But you also read that they get snarled up on things like "how can he be a prince if he doesn't have a castle"? In that sense, "Japan" is a red herring for plainer shortcomings, a view of moviemaking completely defined and circumscribed by the content of Disney Classics. And one of the executives stands out in particular—a name you surely recognize.

Gaiman, however, is not entirely convinced by those arguments. "I don't think I came away thinking, 'OK! Huge gulf between America and Japan.' What I came to the conclusion of was that there is a huge gulf between what Mr Miyazaki is doing and American commercial filmmaking." Instead, Gaiman thinks that everything that went wrong with Princess Mononoke, "came down to Harvey Weinstein being petty." He tells a story of how, after the film's first official screening at the New York Film Festival, Weinstein informed Gaiman that he planned to renege on Disney's deal not to cut the film.

Miyazaki said no and Weinstein killed the movie's marketing campaign.