‘The Boy and the Heron’ Wins Best Animated Feature Oscar

Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron,” likely his final film, has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

It’s Miyazaki’s second Oscar after the Japanese animation master won for “Spirited Away” in 2002. Miyazaki is the most nominated director in the Best Animated Feature category (tied with Pete Docter) with four nominations, including for “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Wind Rises.” Miyazaki is now also the oldest winner in the category ever, at 83, with the previous record holder being Mark Gustafson for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.”

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“The Boy and the Heron” beat out an impressive field that included Pixar entry “Elemental,” Neon’s “Robot Dreams,” Netflix’s “Nimona,” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” from 2018.

Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki were not present at the Academy Awards ceremony to accept the prize. Their Oscar was accepted on their behalf by presenters Chris Hemsworth and Anya Taylor-Joy.

“The Boy and the Heron” has been a hit for Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and American distributor GKIDS, bringing in $167 million worldwide at the box office, including $56 million in Miyazaki’s native Japan. In Japan the movie was titled “How Do You Live?,” which shares the name of an iconic Japanese novel, and the movie was released without a trailer or advertising and still made a splash on the excitement of a new Miyazaki film alone.

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich in his review heralded the film as one of the best films of 2023, saying it’s a more fitting swan song than even “The Wind Rises” because of how it contains all the aspects of many of Miyazaki’s classics throughout his career.

“While this dream-like warble of a swan song may be too pitchy and scattered to hit with the gale-force power that made ‘The Wind Rises’ feel like such a definitive farewell, ‘The Boy and the Heron’ finds Miyazaki so nakedly bidding adieu — to us, and to the crumbling kingdom of dreams and madness that he’ll soon leave behind — that it somehow resolves into an even more fitting goodbye, one graced with the divine awe and heart-stopping wistfulness of watching a true immortal make peace with their own death.”

The film is in subtle ways a highly personal story for Miyazaki, as it opens with a scene of the firebombing in Japan during World War II that he lived through and depicts his father as a director at an aircraft manufacturing factory. It’s also inspired by and dedicated to two of his longtime Ghibli collaborators, Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki, the latter of whom is also an Oscar winner tonight on behalf of the film.

The film is the story of a young man who is contacted by a mysterious heron who welcomes him into another world as he tries to locate his missing stepmom. The film is both a sobering character drama about a boy coping with his mother’s loss as well as a fantastical odyssey about the fate of the world and our place within it.

The English-language dub of the film as put together by GKIDS stars Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan, Willem Dafoe, Florence Pugh, Mamadou Athie, Mark Hamill, Luca Padovan, Karen Fukuhara, Dan Stevens, Tony Revolori, and more.

Miyazaki himself has not been on the awards circuit promoting the project, nor did he appear at the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. But his Studio Ghibli colleagues have even suggested and hoped that “The Boy and the Heron” would not be Miyazaki’s final film. But given the director’s age and with his prior movie arriving a decade earlier, it remains unlikely.

“He is his own person. I can’t say anything for certain, but my understanding is that we’re looking to find a way to really celebrate his legacy. Being older, we want to respect the difficulty of traveling,” GKIDS’ Dave Jesteadt previously told IndieWire about Miyazaki being unable to be an “active participant” in its promotion. “And this film is deeply personal for him. The film is the statement. We’re trying to treat it that way. He created this semi-autobiographical story I think really touches on so many aspects of his life, his relationships, and his thoughts in a really exciting, fantasy-adventure setting. That is the testimony in some ways.”

“The Boy and the Heron” was nominated for seven Annie Awards this year, and it also won the Golden Globe and a slew of critics awards, including NYFCC, LA, and National Board of Review.

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