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Hayao Miyazaki’s Final Film Debuts In Japan, Read First Reactions

Hayao Miyazaki’s highly anticipated new (and reportedly last!) film, The Boy and the Heron, finally made its debut in Japan on Friday (The film’s tentative English-language title, How Do You Live?, was officially changed to The Boy and the Heron for international viewers on Friday. Japan uses the former title, Kimitachi wa Do Ikiruka). The film, which had been shrouded in mystery for months with no promotional material being released, met with a curious public who gave reactions ranging from slight bewilderment to deep appreciation.

Source: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

What did viewers say about ‘The Boy and the Heron’?

Kyodo News was on the scene in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on Friday morning as dozens lined up outside a cinema for the first screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s new film, The Boy and the Heron. After the film’s 124-minute runtime, a 27-year-old company employee said that the film was the “culmination” of Miyazaki’s anime world, adding that he “can’t digest it by just watching it once and I feel like I want to watch it again immediately.” English and Japanese early reviews and descriptions have definitely suggested a movie that’s “visually stunning” albeit more darker and enigmatic than one would expect walking into a Ghibli movie. In an overall positive review, Anime News Network commented on Miyazaki’s animation work within the film, calling it “truly astounding.”

Source: © 2023 Studio Ghibli

“It is no exaggeration to say that this film is among the best of Ghibli’s works in terms of visuals and story,” wrote a popular Japanese film site. “On the other hand, those who are not Ghibli fans may be confused by the dizzying pace of scene development.”

“Every frame of this film feels like a separate work of art — one that only becomes grander when put together as part of the greater whole. It’s a film you could watch a hundred times and still discover new things in the background of any given scene. It cannot be understated how the little visual details take the film from real to surreal — like a heron flashing a toothy grin or wooden dolls vibrating as if in sympathetic laughter. It’s an animation tour de force unlike anything seen in the past decade.”

Critic review for ‘The Boy and the Heron’

What is the newest Ghibli film about?

Spoiler alert! If you’d like to experience Hayao Miyazaki’s final film without any spoilers, skip this part.

Source: © 2023 Studio Ghibli

The Boy and the Heron is a coming-of-age story set in Japan during World War II. The film follows the story of Mahito, a young boy who is struggling to cope with the death of his mother in a firebombing raid. Mahito’s father remarries, and the family moves to a new home in the countryside. Mahito is wracked with grief and angst, and he finds it difficult to adjust to his new surroundings. One day, Mahito meets a mischievous blue heron that speaks to him. The heron leads Mahito to a mysterious abandoned tower in the forest. When Mahito’s new mother goes missing, he follows the heron into the tower in search of her. The tower is a portal to a parallel world, and Mahito finds himself on a journey of self-discovery. In this parallel world, Mahito meets a variety of strange and wonderful creatures. He learns about the importance of nature and the power of the human spirit. He also learns to come to terms with his grief and to find a new sense of purpose in life.

Source: Wikipedia

“To understand the setting and story deeply, you need to commit to watching it repeatedly while ruminating on the various scenes — and analyzing Hayao Miyazaki as a person,” wrote Cinemas+, a Japanese film and culture magazine. The outlet also pointed out many interesting similarities between The Boy and the Heron‘s story and Miyazaki’s own biography.