Editor’s Note: Studio Ghibli took the unprecedented step of not marketing Hayao Miyazaki’s work in Japan. The boy and the heron, without posting trailers or plot summary. Instead, the legendary studio invited fans to watch the film with no preconceived ideas, with producer Toshio Suzuki saying, “Deep down, I think this is what moviegoers latently want.” Therefore, briefly consider the true cinematic desires of him before reading this article.
Shrouded in mystery and awaited by millions, anime legend Hayao Miyazaki’s first film in a decade, The boy and the heron, finally met a curious audience in Japan on Friday, when it began its local release. So far, the collective reaction could best be summed up as a combination of mild bewilderment and deep appreciation.
japanese news service kyodo was onstage Friday morning in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s largest shopping district, as dozens lined up outside a movie theater to The boy and the heronThe first screening of . And as the crowd streamed out of the theater after the film’s 124-minute run, a 27-year-old company employee described the film as the “culmination” of Miyazaki’s anime world, adding, “I can’t stomach just watching it. “. once and I feel like I want to see it again immediately.”
Information about the film prior to its release was deliberately sparse. Ghibli had previously shared only that the film was very loosely inspired by Japanese author Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 philosophical children’s book, How do you live?, one of Miyazaki’s personal favorites. In a 2017 television interview, Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki, considered Miyazaki’s right-hand man, said that the great animator was making the film for his grandson, as a way of saying: “Grandpa will move to the other world soon.” , but he’s leaving this movie behind.”
And the studio’s decision not to do any promotion for the film (without releasing a summary of the plot, voice cast, trailers, art, or description) kept fans in a state of great curiosity (at the same time which left a large part of the Japanese public unaware that a new Miyazaki film was even coming). Suzuki said that he believed that the opportunity to see the film completely new, without preconceived ideas, is what the audience “latently desires.”
So now that many in Japan have seen the movie, what are they saying?
Early reviews and descriptions to emerge from Japan, both in English and Japanese, suggest a film that is visually stunning but somewhat darker and more enigmatic than much of the Ghibli catalog.
In a somewhat mixed but overall positive review, the specialty store anime news network describes Miyazaki’s animation work within the film as “really amazing”.
“Each frame in this film feels like a separate work of art, one that only becomes grander when brought together as part of a greater whole,” the reviewer writes. “It’s a movie you could watch hundreds of times and still discover new things in the background of any given scene. You can’t underestimate how small visual details take the movie from the real to the surreal, like a heron flashing a toothy grin or wooden dolls that vibrate as if they’re laughing sympathetically. It’s a tour de force of animation unlike anything seen in the last decade.”
“It’s no exaggeration to say that this film is among Ghibli’s best works in terms of visuals and story,” Japanese film site Eiga channel wrote. “On the other hand, those who are not Ghibli fans may be confused by the breakneck pace of the scene’s development.”
He added: “Ghibli, which has produced fantasy works that are easily understood by children, has finally released a work that requires time and consideration to understand, so it is only natural that there will be confused reactions. And there must be many viewers who were simply overwhelmed by the visual beauty.”
Japanese film and culture magazine Cinemas+ similarly described the film as a “culmination” for Miyazaki, drawing on motifs and characters from across his filmography, but incorporating them into a story that is somewhat darker, more challenging, and more personal than many of his beloved children’s works.
“To deeply understand the setting and story, you must commit to watching it repeatedly while reflecting on the various scenes and analyzing Hayao Miyazaki as a person,” the outlet said while noting similarities between The boy and the heronThe story of and Miyazaki’s own biography.
The film opens with an impressionistic depiction of the bombing of Tokyo during World War II, with the story’s protagonist, a boy named Mahito, running away from home. His mother is lost in the conflagration and his father, who works in a warplane factory, soon marries the younger sister of his late wife and moves the family to a large traditional house in the field. Mahito, wracked with grief and filled with anguish over his new circumstances, reluctantly begins to explore his new surroundings. He encounters a mischievous talking blue heron, and teases him, and stumbles upon a mysterious abandoned tower in the nearby woods. When his new mother goes missing, Mahito follows the heron up the tower in pursuit of him, crossing into a parallel world of dizzying fantasy and philosophical import.
Many Japanese critics have noted that Miyazaki’s own family escaped the bombing of Tokyo through the Japanese countryside, and that his father worked during the war as an engineer at a fighter aircraft factory, just like Mahiko. Miyazaki has also spoken over the years about how an especially close relationship with her mother shaped him as a person and helped inspire the strong female leads that recur in her films.
So far, Miyazaki has not given interviews on The boy and the heron. However, the best clues that emerge about his inspirations and intentions with the film come from the animator himself, through the grandson of the man who wrote the book that inspired the film.
Taichiro Yoshino, grandson of Genzaburo Yoshino, author of How do you live in 1937, he works today as a journalist and editor in Tokyo. Taichiro posted a article in Japanese on Friday describing a Ghibli private preview screening of the new film he attended earlier this year, where Miyazaki shared a few brief words about his latest film.
“The moment the end credits rolled, the lights came on and Hayao Miyazaki’s comments were read out,” says Yoshino. The director’s statement to the attendees was simply: “Maybe they didn’t get it. I myself do not understand.
“A light laugh rose from the audience,” Yoshino says, adding that he was among those laughing because he was “sitting there in a daze,” struggling to digest and understand the messages of the film.
Yoshino goes on to recount a meeting he attended at the Ghibli offices in 2017 when Miyazaki explained his plan to make a film loosely inspired by Yoshino’s grandfather’s book. According to Yoshino, Miyazaki said that he was returning from his retirement to approach a film from a new perspective.
“I’ve been avoiding it for a long time, but I have to do [a film] that’s more like me,” Miyazaki told him. “I did a lot of work on children who were happy, bright and positive, but a lot of children aren’t really like that. I was a very doubting person myself, so I always thought that children are actually less pure and they mess around with all sorts of things.”
Miyazaki added: “Let’s be open about the fact that we live in conflict. So I thought of creating a hero who is slow to run and has a lot of embarrassing things inside that he can’t share with others. When you overcome something with all your might, you become the version of yourself that can accept such problems.
Yoshino’s article becomes a moving meditation on the legacy of his grandfather’s book, describing how the themes in Miyazaki’s book The boy and the heron inspired him to ask himself, “If I could have a direct conversation with my grandfather right now, what would I say to him?”
Near the end of the piece, he notes that The boy and the heron it is “a separate work” from that of his grandfather How do you livebut perhaps they share the same central theme: how to live with yourself and accept a world characterized by conflict and loss.
It concludes with a call for a repeat viewing of Miyazaki’s last dispatch: “For now, let’s go back to the cinema for clues I couldn’t gather by watching it just once. You can also find a clue for a new dialogue with your grandfather.”
The boy and the heron it will be released in North America by specialty distributor GKIDS sometime later this year.