Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura, Shōhei Hino, Ko Shibasaki, Takuya Kimura
Runtime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 30 November 2023
Synopsis: After the disappearance of his mother in a fire, Mahito, an 11-year-old boy, has to leave Tokyo to live in the countryside in his mother’s hometown. They move with his father into an old mansion on a large estate where he meets a grey heron who progressively becomes his guide and helps him through his discoveries and questions to understand the world around him and unravel the mysteries of life.
Every time a Studio Ghibli animated feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki is released, one wishes that the filmmaker wouldn’t retire. But it is inevitable that the 82 year old co founder of Studio Ghibli will eventually exit the industry one day. Fans all over the world were dismayed after Miyazaki announced his retirement from feature films after the release of The Wind Rises (2013), but heaved a sigh of relief when this decision was reversed when it was reported that he would be writing and directing his 12th feature.
And so here it is, the long waited movie that we have been waiting for. The international title suggests that the story is about the friendship between a boy and a heron, but the Japanese title “How Do You Live?” actually means much more, taking reference from the 1937 novel of the same name by Genzaburō Yoshino.
However, the plot is not adapted from the novel and is an original story. The less one knows about the film before watching it, the better. This is because like most Miyazaki films, there is much to explore and discover as you sit in the theatre, enjoying the visuals on the big screen. Without saying too much, this fantasy film follows the journey of a young boy who has just lost his mother. As he chances upon an abandoned tower in the countryside, a series of unexpected events take place. Besides the titular talking heron, there are also parakeets, pelicans and adorable floating spirits. It’s all very magical indeed.
Viewers can expect weird and wonderful things to happen during the 124 minute film. Going into details in a written review wouldn’t do the masters behind this highly recommended animated feature. The traditional hand drawn style of animation is much missed in this day and age where CG animation is probably more efficient to produce. The signature Studio Ghibli style is lovingly felt in this movie, as characters travel between different realms and the wide eyed wonderment from the protagonist reflects the similar sentiments from the viewers. Miyazaki’s long time collaborator Joe Hisaishi also spoils viewers with a thoughtful, reflective and sometimes melancholic score for the film.
We are also thankful that we got to watch the film in its original Japanese soundtrack which features a voice cast that includes Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura and Takuya Kimura. Although the international version showcases a star studded lineup with big names like Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Mark Hamill, Gemma Chan and Florence Pugh, it is just different watching a Miyazaki film with dubbed dialogues.
Technical excellence aside, this film explores some profound themes. The movie is supposedly semi autobiographical, and is based on Miyazaki’s evacuation from the city to the countryside during the war. Viewers experience loss, grief, emptiness, awe, joy, acceptance and closure at different junctures of the story, and there is never a dull moment. As the film ends on a quietly poignant note, one wonders what the world will be like without Miyazaki’s masterful storytelling and creativity.
(You'll be in awe with Hayao Miyazaki's masterful storytelling in this reflective film that is a perfect swan song for the celebrated filmmaker)
Review by John Li