Referring to Toshiyuki Inoue as a member of the “The Boy and the Heron staff” almost sounds like it’s reducing a protagonist to a mob character. Such was the difficulty of working on Hayao Miyazaki’s latest movie — that one of the most revered animators in Japan felt a chip on his shoulder when he was brought on to the film; where he had doubts about whether his vast knowledge, or art style, highly logical and consistent, critically acclaimed in works like Ghost in the Shell, and Akira would translate easily to The Boy and the Heron and Miyazaki’s looser style.
Miyazaki’s loose style isn’t an animation secret. Many industry legends have even taken potshots at it, a style that disavows anatomical consistency if ditching it emphasizes “emotions and feelings as directly as possible.” Inoue reveals this, his experience with the movie, and more in his interview with the animation blog Full Frontal. Many other anecdotes about other members of The Boy and The Heron staff come up in the 2-hour-long interview, featuring the likes of:
- Takeshi Honda
- Masaaki Endo
- Koji Morimoto
- Ahihiko Yamashita
- Shinya Ohira
Be sure to check it out here.
“Of course, you need to be analytical to some extent to draw correct perspectives and such,” Inoue caveats, “but Miyazaki doesn’t want the perspectives to be too correct. Besides, he expected people to know about all kinds of other stuff, which wasn’t my case. For instance, Kiki’s setting looks like Europe, and I didn’t know anything about European architecture back then. Since I didn’t particularly look into the subject, obviously I couldn’t draw much. It might be exaggerating to say that it feels like a failure on my part, but even though I could do so much on Akira, I suddenly faced all the things I couldn’t do: not being able to realize what Miyazaki wanted, not knowing about Europe or history or architecture… Whereas Miyazaki knows so much about all of that.“
Miyazaki’s breadth of knowledge on matters outside of Japan was highlighted earlier this year by Chainsaw Man‘s Tatsuki Fujimoto, who in an interview with Shueisha said that Miyazaki is one of the last directors of his kind, able to bring such realism to other cultures while most can only produce the often similar 19th-century European copy-pasta seen in many Isekai anime. Even elite writer-directors like Makoto Shinkai only tend to focus on Japan. It was more than just lacking European sensibilities for Inoue, however:
“I was told the ships I drew were no better than a kid’s drawings, and that I probably didn’t even know about how a ship was built. (Bitter laugh) Of course, I didn’t know any of that, so I had nothing to answer: I just realized how much I lacked to be able to draw as many things as I wanted, and it was very painful.“
So given that those stories that Inoue mentions are actually from the 1989 Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, having worked with Miyazaki prior, The Boy and the Heron was his return match, as Full Frontal puts it, and as Inoue agrees:
“I’ve always wished for a return match or a way to redeem myself. But even if I say that, I know I can’t even pretend to rival Miyazaki. I just can’t win. He’s extremely smart and learned, and on top of that, as an animator he always transcends common sense: he’s so talented that I know very well there’s nothing I can do against it. The more I learn about him, the more I realize I’ll never be on that level.“
It’s fair to say that Inoue believes that he won his grudge match, however. “I feel like I got better since Kiki,” Inoue said. “That was over 30 years ago, and I’ve seen all of Ghibli’s works in that meantime. Back then, I was locked into the mindset I had gotten from Akira, but as time passed my way of thinking has changed: I think I’ve become perhaps a bit better at creating that thing in animated movement that doesn’t completely boil down to logic.” However, in another sense, perhaps because the animator known as a ‘pioneer of the realist style‘ possesses incredible awareness, working on The Boy and the Heron further highlighted that he couldn’t match up to Miyazaki: a shortcoming he explores in great detail. It’s just one part of why he’ll remain as a key animator.
Inoue’s picture of a near-God-like Miyazaki is balanced by multiple comments about a man whose mortality is catching up to him – a legend in Miyazaki who is also beginning to lose to himself. With his eyesight and ability to focus waning, Inoue claims that Miyazaki made allowances that he wouldn’t have prior, and entrusted others with far more responsibility:
“And finally, Miyazaki’s been getting old and can’t draw as much as he did: when I joined, you could really feel it. His drawings aren’t as powerful, he’s not as fast, he can’t focus for a long time anymore. So I feel like maybe my contributions served the film better this time.“
“I believe that in some interview, Toshio Suzuki said that Miyazaki just focused on the storyboard and didn’t review the animation, but that’s not quite what happened. Miyazaki probably intended to review all of the film by himself. But as age was starting to catch up, he couldn’t focus as much anymore, so he’d give the most difficult shots to Honda. He also wasn’t as strict as before: he would approve drawings that wouldn’t have passed before just because he didn’t have the strength to correct them.“
But Miyazaki isn’t done yet. As Inoue says in the interview, Miyazaki’s strength lies in adopting different styles. He only works with people or styles he knows well and the box office success of The Boy and the Heron is a further indication (if it needed one) that a call from Miyazaki is worth taking. Shinya Ohira, who famously did parts of Luffy’s Gear 5 animation alongside Akihiro Ota, was given a lot of free rein in his scenes, soon able to be seen in theaters internationally. The interview goes at length to highlight how Miyazaki could best situate people’s talents despite his waning ability to oversee everything. Immediately after Nippon TV’s buyout of Studio Ghibli, sources indicated that Miyazaki was fast at work on his next film.
North American distributor of the film GKIDS gives this synopsis for The Boy and the Heron:
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.
A semi-autobiographical fantasy
about life, death, and creation, in tribute to friendship,
from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki.
The ensemble cast for the English dubbed was previously announced alongside a new poster and includes Ghibli returnee Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, and more.
The Boy and the Heron premiered in Japan this July. The movie had its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Fans in North America will have the chance to watch it starting December 8. Staff were previously announced and include:
- Director, Storyboard, Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
- Music: Joe Hisashi
- Character Design, Animation Director: Takeshi Honda
- Art Director: Youji Takeshige
- Sound Director: Koji Kasamatsu
Source: Full Frontal
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