The Boy and the Heron: An Academy Award Nominated Animation by Master Miyazaki

The Boy and the Heron: An Academy Award Nominated Animation by Master Miyazaki

By Bessy ADUT 

This is one of the films that I have mentioned earlier in my Academy Awards previews essay. I had a chance to watch this incredible, bizarre animation most recently. I’ve been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki since I was studying in Film School back in Turkey at Istanbul Bilgi University. I remember watching “Spirited Away”, being blown away, and writing a thesis paper on it. I also watched “Howl’s Moving Castle” at the !f (Istanbul Independent Film) Festival and then I had an opportunity to watch “Princess Mononoke” and his other animations. What makes Miyazaki so special and unique? How come he is running against Disney and Pixar? There is some unexplainable magic in his work. I know this is a team effort but he is a great leader in the process.

Let’s talk about this latest movie, once again it does have elements of “Alice in Wonderland” of course, but it also has a tone that can touch a child’s imagination and heart as well as an adult's.

The movie has a very sad beginning, we meet Mahito Maki while moving to the countryside with his father and mother’s sister after a very tragic incident during the Pacific War. Mahito explores an abandoned tower and he drags us along to a fantastic journey that is hosted by a grey heron.

The Boy and the Heron (Japanese: 君たちはどう生きるか, Hepburn: Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka, lit. 'How Do You Live?') indeed is a fantasy film. One of the best animations of our times even though it uses a traditional style.

We thought Miyazaki retired about 10 years ago after making of Boro the Caterpillar but he made a comeback. At least 60 animators drew this animation by hand and it is the most expensive film ever produced in Japan. Apparently, the film carries biographical aspects from Miyazaki’s childhood. The themes of the story include grief, coming of age, and finding a new meaning in life. The film was scored by Hisaishi and Kenshi Yonezu wrote and sang the theme song “Spinning Globe.”

Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki

This comment might seem out of place however looking back, I can see a resemblance with the story of the “Lion King” in a way. A child losing a relative and finding comfort and friends in a fantasy land to outgrow the pain and the unknown future ahead. Acceptance of destiny and making peace with it.

The animation has grossed US$167 million worldwide. In terms of awards, it won the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film and the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I believe most likely it will win in this category and well deserved.

In terms of the screenplay, the story begins by introducing our character with a very sad loss. Mahito Maki’s father marries his mother’s sister. His stepmother Natsuko is pregnant and she tries to be a good mother to him. Mahito tries to get used to his new life in this rural place but gets bullied by kids at school and he injures himself.

His new ‘friend’ heron talks to him and promises to find his mother. Mahito gets inspired and makes his own bow and arrow. Little boy continues on his fantastical journey meeting many mythical creatures and exploring his own unique voice and powers within.

Some of the characters, such as the old maidens at home looking like cute grandmothers, resemble some characters from his previous animation work "Spirited Away." After a magical and sometimes scary journey, we see Mahito becoming more mature and he earns the freedom of both worlds, he has enough courage to go on with the rest of his life. Maybe it’s all a grief process.

It’s a very interesting fact to know that story was based on Miyazaki’s childhood. Having to evacuate because of war and the hospital fire were all based on a true story. A child needs to overcome his own self-absorbed needs and learn to live for others. The film carries a message of golden dust; against all the odds keep faith and continue climbing the mountain even when things get really difficult in life. It is important to try to keep an optimistic outlook. Imagination becomes a savior for a depressed child who is trying to figure things out on the bridge between life and death. Confronting his own fears and learning to accept the things he can not change...

The Boy and the Heron

In terms of critical response, %97 on Rotten Tomatoes sounds pretty pretty good. It also got an A from the world audience at CinemaScore. One of the most amazing elements of Miyazaki films is that it looks so realistic and yet so fantastical at the same time. It is childish but very adult as well. It does contain many contrasts within and maybe there is a good yin-yang balance to it that amazes the world audience from all nations and ages. These are universal themes that touch most souls and minds. There is a timeless quality to this animation as well, I believe if I were to have grandchildren one day, they would be as amazed as us.

So far the animation won Best Animated Feature Film in Golden Globe Awards, Annie Awards, and BAFTA. We are looking forward to seeing any upcoming awards soon. After the film’s release and success, the book it was adapted from “How Do You Live” also became a bestseller. My recommendation is to watch the animation or watch it again to share the joy some more for the Oscars this year. Whether it wins or not, it is a very well-earned nomination. Bringing both realities and fantasies to life with moving pictures is truly mesmerizing. Once you watch and enjoy a Miyazaki animation, you’re going to want to watch and explore them all. Hope you enjoy this animated film as much as I did. I would like to end my essay with a respectful bow and salute to Master Miyazaki.

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