Renowned anime director Hayao Miyazaki surprised audiences with the release of his latest film, “The Boy And The Heron” (also known as “How Do You Live?”), in Japanese theaters on Friday, July 14. The film was intentionally kept under wraps by Studio Ghibli head Toshio Suzuki, who aimed to encourage viewers to experience Miyazaki’s first film in a decade without any preconceived notions. With only a title and a poster to go by, Suzuki sought to evoke the excitement and imagination he felt as a child when anticipating a movie. Suzuki explained, “A poster and a title – that’s all we got when we were children. I enjoyed trying to imagine what a movie was about, and I wanted to bring that feeling back,” in an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK.
According to ComScore, the film, distributed by Toho, garnered $13.2 million in its opening weekend, while IMAX reported a new three-day opening record of $1.7 million from 44 screens.
Critics based in Japan, who were not offered advance screenings, have shared their reactions, which are mostly favorable with some mixed responses. Anime News Network awarded the film an overall ‘A’ rating, commending its themes and animation quality. However, they gave the story a B+ rating, citing its predictability. Reviewer Richard Eisenbeis stated, “What’s not predictable is everything else. The world Mahito travels through is unlike any seen before – even in Miyazaki’s other similar films. From oceans with monstrous fish to cities full of man-eating parrots – you’re never sure where the film is going next or who Mahito will meet there.” Eisenbeis continued to praise the animation, describing it as astounding and remarking on the intricate details that make every frame feel like a separate work of art.
From Novel to Movie
Based on a novel by Genzaburo Yoshino, which reportedly deeply impacted Miyazaki as a child, the film follows the story of Mahito, a young boy navigating life during World War II. After the loss of his mother in the fire bombings of Tokyo, Mahito’s father remarries and moves the family to the countryside. There, Mahito encounters a talking heron who claims that his mother is alive and trapped in a mysterious tower near their home. When Mahito’s stepmother disappears into the tower, he decides to venture inside against warnings in an attempt to rescue her.
How it Compares to Previous Work
Writing for the BBC, Tokyo-based journalist Matt Schley noted that the film encompasses Miyazaki’s characteristic obsessions, quirks, and thematic concerns. He highlighted the visual splendors, including charming yet eerie creatures, delectable-looking food, and gravity-defying flights of imagination, all animated with Miyazaki’s trademark fluidity and sense of weight. Thematically, “How Do You Live” follows in the footsteps of films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Spirited Away,” presenting a coming-of-age tale in which a child must overcome selfishness and learn to live for others.
Emma Steen of Time Out Japan commented that despite its G rating, the film possesses a noticeably more mature tone, incorporating unsettling moments absent in previous Miyazaki films like “Ponyo” and “My Neighbor Totoro.” Steen mentioned instances where Mahito deliberately injures himself to escape bullies and the presence of eerie creatures, such as anthropomorphic man-eating parakeets, reminiscent of the haunting characters in “Spirited Away” like No-Face and the Stink Spirit. While Steen acknowledged that the abundance of ideas occasionally distracts from the storytelling, she ultimately concluded that “The Boy And The Heron” is a “mature, complex masterpiece” that was well worth the wait.
Although Miyazaki, who is 82 years old, has announced retirement in the past, only to resume work on “The Boy And The Heron,” Suzuki has previously stated that the film serves as a farewell gift to Miyazaki’s grandson. Many Japanese reviewers have noted the personal connections between Miyazaki’s own family history and the film’s narrative, as Miyazaki’s family sought refuge in the Japanese countryside during the Tokyo bombings, and his father worked in a fighter plane factory, similar to Mahito’s father in the story. Miyazaki has also shared how his close relationship with his mother has inspired the strong female characters that frequently appear in his films.
While the film remains unseen outside of Japan, plans for its international release are currently being formulated. Gkids has acquired distribution rights for North America and is expected to release the film later this year.
Q: What is the title of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film? A: The film is titled “The Boy And The Heron,” also known as “How Do You Live?”
Q: When was the film released in Japanese theaters? A: The film was released on Friday, July 14.
Q: Why was the film kept under wraps without advance publicity? A: Studio Ghibli head Toshio Suzuki deliberately chose to release the film with minimal information to encourage audiences to experience it without preconceived notions. He aimed to evoke the excitement and imagination he felt as a child when anticipating a movie.
Q: How did critics respond to “The Boy And The Heron”? A: Critics’ reactions were mostly favorable, with some mixed reviews. The film received praise for its maturity, complexity, and stunning visuals. However, there were minor criticisms regarding the predictability of the story and occasional distractions from the abundance of ideas.
Q: What is the film about? A: “The Boy And The Heron” follows the story of Mahito, a young boy navigating life during World War II. After losing his mother in the fire bombings of Tokyo, Mahito’s father remarries, and the family moves to the countryside. There, Mahito encounters a talking heron who claims that his mother is alive and trapped in a mysterious tower. Determined to rescue her, Mahito ventures into the tower despite warnings to stay away.
Q: Will the film be released internationally? A: Yes, plans for the international release of the film are currently being arranged. Gkids has acquired distribution rights for North America and is expected to release the film later this year.
Q: Is this Hayao Miyazaki’s final film? A: While Miyazaki has announced retirement in the past, only to resume work on new projects, it has been stated that “The Boy And The Heron” serves as a farewell gift to his grandson. However, future projects cannot be ruled out entirely.
Q: Does the film incorporate Miyazaki’s signature elements? A: Yes, the film embraces Miyazaki’s characteristic obsessions, quirks, and thematic concerns. It includes visual delights, endearing yet eerie creatures, captivating food imagery, and breathtaking flights of imagination. The animation maintains Miyazaki’s trademark fluidity and weighty movement.
Q: Are there any connections between Miyazaki’s personal life and the film? A: Reviewers have noted the parallels between Miyazaki’s own family history and elements of the film. Miyazaki’s family sought refuge in the Japanese countryside during the Tokyo bombings, and his father worked in a fighter plane factory, similar to Mahito’s father in the story. Additionally, Miyazaki has spoken about his close relationship with his mother, which has influenced the presence of strong female characters in his films.