By Sam Tucker
Hayao Miyazaki – and by extension Studio Ghibli – has long been a name known both within and outside of Japanese Animation circles. Known for their beautiful, creative animation films that pull from Japanese history, fables, and the impact on the youth from the world around them. Even me as a humble high-schooler in Kansas City had heard of these films – stories involving a variety of foreign motifs and ideas rendered sublimely; the DVDs passed around the halls outside of the drama and film clubs like contraband. While I was too entrenched in the post-Matrix Sci-Fi’s and post-Memento Neo-Noirs of the time, I have come around to appreciate the work and craftsmanship that goes into these tales.
Unbeknownst to me, the long run of Miyazaki-San was going to come to a close following a reversed-retirement announcement in following The Wind Rises in 2013. The Boy and The Heron went into development in 2016, staying true to the work that goes into the hand-drawn art style and low-amount of CGI used to keep it authentic. Finally released this year, it went on to be the most expensive Japanese movie ever made and made seismic waves in the Film and Animation community – a heartfelt (potentially temporary?) conclusion to a legacy that has been a continual inspiration to many, destined to endure perpetually.
Like most Miyazaki projects, the plot can seem somewhat nebulous and confounding, with my personal experience being that he loves to pull the rug out from under you after grounding you in a “real world” for the first 20-30 minutes. This in turn makes trying to describe it difficult in both remaining spoiler free and something that doesn’t sound like explaining a dream. The official synopsis from IMDB seems to have a similar predicament:
A young boy named Mahito yearning for his mother ventures into a world shared by the living and the dead. There, death comes to an end, and life finds a new beginning.
After catching a screening at IPH earlier this month, I can 100% confirm that you can see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this project. The visuals fly out off the screen at sometimes a relentless pace – images that immediately draw you in vanish before you can fully process what you’ve seen. I feel that it’s likely that the excellent YouTube Channel Every Frame A Painting would have had a field day dissecting this experience had it not unfortunately shut down seven years ago (still worth checking them out!).
However, being completely transparent, I’m not even sure that description comes close to clarifying the turns and fantastical elements that are presented and subsequently not interpreted. I presented this to my guest who joined me at the screening (creatively named “The Ghibli Effect”) as a feature not a bug, intentional in its obfuscation. For those who are Miyazaki initiates and fans, they will go into this experience with the appropriate expectations and will likely be able to discuss hidden meanings and references over drinks late into the night. For those who are undergoing their first or at least recent Ghibli project, I would recommend entering this movie like entering an art gallery for a painter you’ve only ever heard of: you may not be able to fully comprehend the motifs, morals, and throughlines with a single lap through, but if they are a true Master of their Craft like Miyazaki-San then you will still be able to appreciate the beauty and effort put forth.
So as always, head over to the IPH, turn your phone off, and enjoy a nice beverage while your eyes fill with (potentially) the last beautiful images from one of Japan’s most decorated creators.