Manchester’s hallmark cinema HOME, hosted this year’s Manchester Animation Festival. Here, an audience of Studio Ghibli enthusiasts enjoyed a preview screening of the highly anticipated The Boy and the Heron.
Vaguely based on the 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino titled How Do You Live?, The Boy and the Heron follows 12-year-old Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki) as he and his father Shoichi (Takuya Kimura) move to a new town as his father remarries after the death of his mother. Burdened with grief, Mahito struggles to settle in whilst traumatic dreamscapes of his mother’s passing haunt his present. With the help of an irksome talking grey heron (Masaki Suda), Mahito enters a magical world that almost pre-empts life contrasting our current world where death is determined.
The Boy and the Heron is Miyazaki’s latest project proceeding his 2013 film The Wind Rises. According to the Studio’s producer Toshio Suzuki, it is estimated to be one of the most expensive films ever produced in Japan. For decades Miyazaki has been announcing his retirement and still to no one’s surprise he refutes his statements every time. In an article from The Verge, Alicia Haddick tracks the times in which Miyazaki planned to retire in 1997, then 2001 and then 2013. Yet, the director failed to meet plans and continued producing films – much to our enjoyment.
Perhaps it is this painful anticipatory thinking that Miyazaki might never make another film again that further pushes such excitement towards his Ghibli pictures. Cynically it works as film marketing for an animation house that has unconventional marketing strategies. Either way, I’m grateful for Miyazaki’s contradictions as nothing but the absolute epitome of surrealist, adventure animation has been drawn out on screens because of this.
It seems MAF’s attendees were grateful too as The Boy and the Heron was received well by a packed-out audience culminating in a long applause as the credits rolled. One audience member was quite literally on the edge of his seat for most of the film’s duration.
Despite his refusal to retire, The Boy and the Heron feels slightly more drenched in solemnity and sincerity compared to previous Miyazaki films as themes of life and death heavily permeate the film. Yet in the same breath, it can be described as comforting, calming, and whimsical. More than ever Miyazaki’s fanciful adventures come to astounding fruition in The Boy and the Heron but be that as it may, at times it feels slightly too overwhelming.
I do not want to inadvertently jinx it, but if Miyazaki was to make a final film it would make sense for The Boy and the Heron to be it. Strangely it felt as if the film was an amalgamation of previous Ghibli films, since glimpses of the Studio’s previous projects can be observed in this one. From the fantastical saviour and their eclectic house seen in Howl’s Moving Castle, the talking animal companion in Kiki’s Delivery Service, to the billowing movements of the film’s Warawara spirits similar to that of Ponyo’s sisters and even down to the theme of childhood grief subtly observed in My Neighbour Totoro. Not forgetting the overarching sentiment within most Ghibli films of highlighting the resilience of children and their ability to adapt to ever-changing worlds.
If there was to be an ultimate Miyazaki film, The Boy and the Heron would be a top contender; it was as if he was honouring his life’s work by making this beautiful kaleidoscope piece.
The Boy and the Heron will be released in cinemas on December 26, 2023.