September 24, 2023



Toronto Awards Analysis: ‘The Boy and the Heron,’ the festival opener and possibly Miyazaki’s final work, is a strong contender for the Academy

Toronto Awards Analysis: ‘The Boy and the Heron,’ the festival opener and possibly Miyazaki’s final work, is a strong contender for the Academy

Although ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ remains the frontrunner for this season’s Best Animated Feature Oscar, ‘The Boy and the Heron’ is expected to secure a fourth nomination for its iconic director.

Hayao Miyazaki, an acclaimed figure in the world of animation on par with Walt Disney, was honored with an Oscar in 2015. This recognition came two years after he announced his retirement, capping a remarkable career that featured three films nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, with his 2002 masterpiece “Spirited Away” emerging as a winner.

Much to the delight of his devoted fans, the 82-year-old Miyazaki has come out of retirement, reportedly for one final film titled “The Boy and the Heron.” This movie, described as a surreal semi-autobiographical story about a boy coping with the loss of his mother during World War II, is said to be a gift for his grandson. The North American premiere of this film marked the opening of the 48th Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday evening.

Reviews for the film, which premiered in Japan on July 14 and has amassed an impressive $53 million in box office earnings, have been overwhelmingly positive. Critics have praised its meticulously crafted visuals, describing each frame as a work of art with stunning backgrounds that draw viewers in with their rich colors and textures. The film’s keen attention to foreground details and seamless visual storytelling has also garnered acclaim. While some of the more fantastical aspects of the plot may occasionally confuse viewers, the film’s visuals consistently remind us of the storytelling prowess embedded in Miyazaki’s unique visual language.

The reviewer suggests that this Miyazaki film, with its weighty themes, is likely to resonate more with adults than children, potentially bolstering its appeal to Oscar voters. For those who grew up with Miyazaki’s animated classics, the film is said to be brimming with emotion, tenderness, and a sense of wonder.

Although ‘The Boy and the Heron’ is not expected to pose a significant challenge to this season’s long-standing frontrunner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ from Sony, it is highly likely to secure a fourth Oscar nomination for Miyazaki. He is widely revered within the Academy’s animation branch, particularly for his role in preserving the art of 2D hand-drawn animation, which is a fading tradition.

Although the filmmaker didn’t attend TIFF in Canada, his presence was strongly felt among attendees. Guillermo del Toro, the reigning Best Animated Feature Oscar winner, made a surprise appearance and introduced the screening by hailing Miyazaki as “perhaps the greatest director of animation ever.” Such an endorsement carries significant weight as the awards season kicks off.

Following its Toronto International Film Festival screening, ‘The Boy and the Heron’ is scheduled to be showcased at the New York Film Festival on October 1. Afterward, it will have a U.S. theatrical release through GKIDS, beginning on November 22 and expanding on December 8. It would be intriguing to consider it as a double feature with another contender this season, ‘All of Us Strangers,’ which also explores themes of grief and a reunion with a deceased parent.

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Ralph Calaway