Studio Ghibli’s Stellar Animation in The Boy and the Heron

3 mins read

Hayao Miyazaki’s new film, The Boy and The Heron, is a refreshing animated movie that shows the industry that 2D animation still has its place in the constantly evolving medium of animated films. From the beautifully hand-drawn backdrops to the soothing, ambient music, Studio Ghibli has delivered yet another masterpiece of animation and storytelling. 

The Boy and The Heron–––alternatively titled How Do You Live? internationally–––was released on July 14, 2023, in Japan with little to no promotional material surrounding it. “Over the years, we’ve done various things to get audiences to come see our films. But I thought, ‘That’s enough of that.’ It’s no fun doing the same thing over and over,” lead producer Toshio Suzuki said in an interview with Japanese magazine Bungei Shunju. Despite the lack of promotional material, the film gained mass popularity with hype for the movie leaving Japan and reaching the rest of the world. GKIDS, the distributor for Studio Ghibli films, released a teaser trailer for the film on September 6th, 2023 with the official release date for international audiences being on December 8th, 2023. However, there was an early premiere for the movie on December 4th at AMC Newpark 12, and I was one of the lucky souls to watch this spectacle of animation early. 

The film’s original title, How Do You Live?, references the 1937 novel from Genzaburo Yoshino which shares the same name. However, it is a completely different story with different characters and plots, only drawing inspiration from certain parts of the novel. The movie is set in 1943 Japan as we are introduced to our protagonist, Mahito Maki, a 12-year-old boy who is struggling to adjust to living in a new town after his mothers death in a hospital fire. Mahito is confronted by a gray heron who informs him that his mother is still alive, and accompanies him to a mysterious tower. The tower transports Mahito to a different world where he sets on a journey full of twists and turns to find his mother, encountering new friends and enemies along the way. 

This film is one of the greatest animations I’ve ever seen. I never thought I could shed tears over the opening of a movie, much less a title screen, but Studio Ghibli’s film did exactly that. The combination of the beautifully animated opening scene and the masterful ambient music gave me a rush of nostalgia. Those sentiments didn’t die after the opening, though, as throughout the whole movie, Miyazaki’s rich storytelling captivated me in a flurry of emotions—not a single moment of the story felt dull and the fast action-packed scenes contrasted the more calm moments of the film, which kept me on the edge of my seat and left me anticipating for more. All of the characters were masterfully written as well: every character, no matter how minor, had deep personalities and dynamics.

The one thing that a Ghibli film requires is a masterful soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi, and rest assured, he did return to give us yet another alluring soundtrack for the film. Hisaishi’s beautiful tracks mixed with Miyazaki’s stellar storytelling and animation combine together to create an amazing visual and audible experience. The official soundtrack for the movie is on Spotify, and I highly recommend you listen to it. 

One thing I loved about this movie is Studio Ghibli’s return to form with 2D Animation in an industry where the bar for animation keeps being raised. While the advent of 3D animated films, like Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse, pushed the limits of animation by incorporating elements of both 2D and 3D, The Boy and The Heron strays from it, showing that despite the recent innovations in animation, traditional hand-drawn animation still has its place in the industry. This return to 2D animation was very much needed, as their last 3D film The Earwig and the Witch was very underwhelming and failed to capture those beautiful landscapes that the Studio is known for in their hand-drawn animations. This movie was a fantastic comeback for the studio and I hope they can bring us more hand-drawn masterpieces in the future. 

The voice actors in the original Japanese film were great. The star studded cast of the English dub featured the likes of actors such as Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, Dave Bautista, Willhelm Dafoe, and Luca Padovan. These actors delivered a wonderful performance that didn’t change the original meaning and vision of the story. Many studios hire celebrity voice actors in order to get people in theaters, but their performances normally fall flat because they couldn’t fit into the role. However, this wasn’t a problem with this film, as each actor fit into their roles perfectly and their adaptations were phenomenal. 

Overall, I would highly recommend you watch this movie. It has everything you could want in a movie: amazing visuals, beautifully written story and characters, and the stellar soundtrack from Hisaishi. Starting December 8, The Boy and the Heron came to theaters and is currently both in IMAX enhanced and Standard formats with English dubbed and original Japanese versions. 

D’Anjou Libunao is a sophomore in his first year in journalism. He enjoys writing reviews on popular media like movies, music, and more! Outside of school he loves spending time with friends.

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