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Saturday, Jul 13th, 2024
HomeEntertaintmentMusicHayao Miyazaki plays the hits

Hayao Miyazaki plays the hits

Hayao Miyazaki plays the hits

Watching Hayao Miyazaki’s un-retirement animated feature The Boy And The Heron is a little like watching Bob Dylan play the hits live: you have some idea of what you’ll get, even if it’s all jumbled up into a wholly new combination and style. Released in Japan under the title of How Do You Live, after a 1937 novel it’s mostly not based on, The Boy And The Heron neither had nor needed trailers there, or much promotion save a single poster design. Miyazaki-savvy audiences came with a degree of confidence in what they would get, as can American aficionados of Studio Ghibli.

For the significantly larger percentage of stateside audiences who don’t pay attention to animation directors’ names, there’s an all-star dub on the way, with Robert Pattinson, Dave Bautista, and Florence Pugh, among others, adding their familiar voices. Only the subtitled version was offered for advance screenings indicating, perhaps, a confidence by U.S. Distributor GKIDS that for critics, Miyazaki is the real star.

Fans will notice in the story a little Spirited Away, some The Wind Rises, a good amount of When Marnie Was There (not a Miyazaki film, but based on a favorite book of his), a touch of Howl’s Moving Castle, all through a very loose autobiographical framework of World War II-era relocation. There’s a father who works in the military aircraft industry, caricatured old people with huge heads, supercute and marketable magical spirits who show up in hordes, a fantasy realm accessible through an old building, and a spirit guide even more temperamental than No-Face in the form of the Heron (voiced by Masaki Suda in the original Japanese version and Robert Pattinson in the English dub). It would almost feel like a Miyazaki ripoff, but for the fact that the old master’s still good enough to spin his own recycled bits into gold.

Initially serving mostly to torment young Mahito (Soma Santoki in Japanese, Luca Padovan in English), a boy who recently lost his mother in a hospital fire, the Heron turns out to be a strange old man squeezed into a heron skin, and an almost compulsive liar who’s occasionally really helpful despite himself. The bird’s tongue is actually the man’s gin-blossomed nose, while its body is like a bigger-on-the-inside TARDIS that the fat man’s physique squeezes out of to reveal his true self. Miyazaki frequently develops his stories as the storyboards are drawn, which gives the adventures that ensue the episodic structure and semi-chaotic logic of classic children’s fantasies like Pinocchio or Alice In Wonderland, the latter of which also featured its share of senior-citizen caricatures with oversized craniums.

In this instance, the fantasy realm has touches of The Neverending Story, albeit more the book than the movie, as its very existence or non-existence is predicated on Mahito seriously sorting out his family issues. Like a dream that allows its creator to express emotions they could not in real-life polite company, Mahito’s journey with the Heron takes all sorts of fantastical tangents that aren’t necessarily metaphors, but in the end allows him to exorcise his traumas. The juxtaposition of cuteness and danger adds a pointed disorienting effect—who knew that parakeets in little chef hats could endanger one’s life so? That, in a way, is childhood, especially childhood in the immediate post-WWII Japan—the kids may be fed cuteness, but they’re aware of the lingering fear and despair underneath.

THE BOY AND THE HERON | Official English Trailer

The dub casting is just bizarre. The Heron is an older man with a pointedly annoying voice, so GKIDS gets … Robert Pattinson? Even with the range the former heartthrob has shown post-Twilight, this is a role more suited to the late Gilbert Gottfried. In some cases, it’s clearly celebrity fans wanting to participate: Dan Stevens, Mamoudou Athie, and Tony Revolori are basically going to be extras as the voices of random parakeets. Better to experience the story without the distraction of “guess that voice,” with dialogue spoken the way Miyazaki originally directed it. The dub seems more like it’ll be akin to those charity readthroughs where different celebrities read for famous parts in classic movie scripts: more fun as contrast than an immersive story unto itself. Kids who don’t yet know their celebrities won’t care.

If The Boy And The Heron is indeed Miyazaki’s final film, it can serve as both a victory lap and a plea for a successor to arrive and take up the mantle of trying to make the world a better place through art. The story in its most literal reading implies the successor should be blood kin, which is a whole lot of pressure to put on the already legacy burdened Goro Miyazaki, but it also implies that even if that doesn’t work out there’s always a plan B, and things go as they should.

In the meantime, this particular style of dreamlike, transporting art continues to do the trick.

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