For the first time in Hayao Miyazaki's decades-spanning career, the 82-year-old Japanese anime master is No. 1 at the North American box office.
Miyazaki's latest enchantment, The Boy and the Heron, debuted with $US12.8 million ($A19.5 million), according to studio estimates.
The Boy and the Heron, the long-awaited animated fantasy from the director of Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and other cherished anime classics, is only the third anime to top the box office in US and Canadian theatres, and the first original anime to do so.
The film, which is playing in both subtitled and dubbed versions, is also the first fully foreign production to land atop the domestic box office this year.
Though Miyazaki's movies have often been enormous hits in Japan and Asia, they've traditionally made less of a mark in North American cinemas.
The director's previous best performer was his last movie, 2013's The Wind Rises, which grossed $US5.2 million ($A7.9 million) in its entire domestic run.
"It's really a resounding statement for what animation can be," said Eric Beckman, founder and chief executive of GKIDS, the North American distributor for Studio Ghibli films.
"American audiences have been ready for a lot more than what they've been getting, and I think this really points to that direction."
The Boy and the Heron for years was expected to be Miyazaki's swan song.
But just as it was making its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Junichi Nishioka, Studio Ghibli vice-president, said the previously retired Miyazaki has begun working toward another film.
The Boy and the Heron, has been hailed as one of the best films of the year.
The film, featuring an English dub voice cast including Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Dave Bautista and Mark Hamill, follows a boy who, after their mother perishes in World War II bombing, is led by a mysterious heron to a portal that takes him to a fantastical realm.
In Japan, its title translates to How Do You Live?
The Boy and the Heron earlier collected $US56 million ($A85 million) in Japan despite zero promotion.
Studio Ghibli opted to release the film without production stills, trailers, ads or billboards.
The US and Canadian release included conventional advertising but was similarly handled with the care of something truly special as a Miyazaki movie.
Throughout this year, all 10 of Miyazaki's films with Ghibli were re-released in theatres by GKIDS, which was founded in 2008 as way to bring ambitious animation to wider audiences.
"Working on a Hayao Miyazaki film is a huge honour but also kind of terrifying," Beckman said.
"We're really just trying to do justice to the film."
Australian Associated Press