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The Boy and the Heron (君たちはどう生きるか, Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka, lit. "How do you live?") is the 22nd animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. Distributed by Toho, it was released in Japan on July 14, 2023. The story follows a boy, Mahito Maki, negotiating the difficult relationship with his father and step mother. Throughout, he is regularly visited by a supernatural heron who makes observations about human life. The Japanese name of the film How Do You Live? is based on the 1937 book of the same name; However, the rest of the film is completely independent of the book with a different plot and characters.


The protagonist is a Japanese boy named Mahito Maki. In 1944, during the Pacific War, his mother was hospitalized and killed in an air raid on Tokyo, and the family was evacuated to the suburbs with his father's fighter plane factory. Mahito was unable to accept his mother's sister, who was pregnant with his father's child, as his new mother, and was isolated even at his new school. One day, at an evacuated house, he finds a book titled How Do You Live?

In the woods in the garden of the house, there stands an abandoned Western-style house. The house had been built by a legendary man who was also Mahito's great uncle. Then a grey heron who spoke human language appeared before him and said, "Your mother is waiting for you. She is not dead." The grey heron leads Mahito into the Western-style house.

Cast and characters

Character Original English
Mahito Maki Soma Santoki Luca Padovan
The Gray Heron Masaki Suda Robert Pattinson
Himi Aimyon Karen Fukuhara
Natsuko Yoshino Kimura Gemma Chan
Shoichi Maki Takuya Kimura Christian Bale
Kiriko Kou Shibasaki Florence Pugh
Great Uncle Shohei Hino Mark Hamill
The Parakeet King Jun Kunimura Dave Bautista
Old Pelican Kaoru Kobayashi Willem Dafoe
Izumi Keiko Takeshita Denise Pickering
Utako Jun Fubuki Barbara Rosenblat
Aiko Shinobu Otake Barbara Goodson
Eriko Sawako Agawa Melora Harte
Warawara Karen Takizawa
Parakeets Mamoudou Athie
Tony Revolori
Dan Stevens


The film score was composed by Miyazaki's longtime collaborator Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack, consisting of 37 songs, was released in Japan on August 9, 2023, by Tokuma Japan Communications. Kenshi Yonezu was in charge of the theme song, titled "Chikyūgi" (地球儀, lit. "Globe") in Japan, and titled "Spinning Globe" internationally. Yonezu's first visit to Studio Ghibli in 2018 led to his collaboration with Miyazaki, driven by his composition of "Paprika" for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Suzuki witnessed Miyazaki singing the song with children at Ghibli's nursery school, and the director approved the composition after reviewing a demo recording. Yonezu, shown storyboards and provided with project details, engaged in a five-year creative process with Miyazaki and Suzuki, resulting in the completion of the musical composition.[1]

Joe Hisaishi composed the soundtrack for the film. He met with Hayao Miyazaki and saw the film on 7 July 2022, when the film was 95% complete. He considered his work to be completely different from his prior contributions with Ghibli. After the meeting, Miyazaki left him with the complete responsibility of composing the music, from the tones, orchestration, and instrumentation choices, a sharp departure from his prior collabortions. In the first half of the film, he chose a minialist approach by having very few instruments as possible. In the second half, the musical palette gets bigger, creating a view “of heaven and hell,” according to Hisaishi, as only a full orchestra can. But the main theme, “Ask Me Why,” doesn’t necessarily unfold and develop into something bigger each time it appears. Hisaishi keeps it small and personal, playing the piano part himself, so that it feels like something at the core of Mahito’s heart.  The influence on his minimalism was influenced by Western composers, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass. [2]

No. Title Length
1. "Ask Me Why (疎開)" (Evacuation)
2. "白壁" (White Wall)
3. "青サギ" (The Blue Heron)
4. "追憶" (Reminiscence)
5. "青サギⅡ" (The Blue Heron II)
6. "黄昏の羽根" (Feather of Twlight)
7. "思春期" (Puberty)
8. "青サギⅢ" (The Blue Heron III)
9. "静寂" (Silence)
10. "青サギの呪い" (The Curse of the Blue Heron)
11. "矢羽根" (Arrow Feathers)
12. "Ask Me Why (母の思い)" (Mother's Thoughts)
13. "ワナ" (Trap)
14. "聖域" (Sanctuary)
15. "墓の主" (Lord of the Grave)
16. "箱船" (Ark)
17. "ワラワラ" (Swarming)
18. "転生" (Reincarnation)
19. "火の雨" (Rain of Fire)
20. "呪われた海" (The Cursed Sea)
21. "別れ" (Farewell)
22. "回顧" (Retrospective)
23. "急接近" (A Sudden Approach)
24. "陽動" (Diversion)
25. "炎の少女" (Girl of the Flame)
26. "眞人とヒミ" (Mahito and Himi)
27. "回廊の扉" (Corridor Door)
28. "巣穴" (Burrow)
29. "祈りのうた" (Song of Prayer)
30. "大伯父" (Great-Uncle)
31. "隠密" (Covert)
32. "大王の行進" (March of the Great King)
33. "大伯父の思い" (Great-Uncle's Thoughts)
34. "Ask Me Why (眞人の決意)" (Mahito's Decision)
35. "大崩壊" (The Great Collapse)
36. "最後のほほえみ" (The Last Smile)
37. "米津玄師 - 地球儀 (主題歌)" (Spinning Globe (Theme))


Oscars Suzuki

Toshio Suzuki at "Oscar Week 2017" with fellow animation directors and producers.

In 2013, Studio Ghibli president Koji Hoshino announced during the premiere of "The Wind Rises" that Hayao Miyazaki would retire from the producing feature films.[3]

Miyazaki commenced animation work in July 2016, later confirmed by studio executive Toshio Suzuki.

By February 24, 2017, Toshio Suzuki made a statement during "Oscar Week 2017" (an event held a week before the Academy Awards), that Miyazaki is withdrawing from his retirement to produce a new feature-length animated film. Once Suzuki began working on “The Red Turtle” (2016), Miyazaki returned to the producer with a new idea for a feature.[4] When a reporter asked about Hayao Miyazaki's next movie, Suzuki smiled and prefaced, "It didn't take a year to say that (Miyazaki) wanted to return to active duty (after announcing his retirement). I will never forget, July 1st (2016). (Miyazaki) brought a proposal to me. A feature film proposal. He said, "I'll draft the e-conte (storyboard) for the first 20 minutes, so Mr. Suzuki, please judge whether this is interesting.” At the end of last year, I read it. I was really worried. I was worried. The content was really interesting..."

The film was at one point suggested to be released around the time of the 2020 Summer Olympics.[5]

Miyazaki announces The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki announcing the title of his new film.

By May 19, 2017, Ghibli's production department was reopened and began rehiring many of its past collaborators.

In October 2017, during a commemorative event at Waseda University for the author Natsume Sōseki, Hayao Miyazaki revealed to the thousand attendees that his the new film would be an adaptation of the novel, "How Do You Live?".[6] The film is expected to take three to four years to complete. Suzuki revealed that Miyazaki is working with his grandson in mind after he (Hayao Miyazaki) passes on.

Suzuki revealed that Miyazaki still needs "about three or four years" to finish the film in August 2018. In December 2019, Suzuki, in an NHK interview with actor Takeru Satoh, said, "The film is 15% finished at the end of October 2019 after 3.5 years of production. There was a schedule for directing 5 minutes per month but that was not followed in favor of 1 minute per month. There were plans to finish in 2019, but that schedule was not followed anymore. At this rate, the film would be completed by 2037 at the earliest."

Suzuki annoucement

Toshio Suzuki announcing Ghibli films will be released on HBO Max in USA and the state of Studio Ghibli during the pandemic.

In May 14, 2020, as the world was affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, the film's production schedule was largely immune to its effects. Suzuki explains in an interview, "We still draw everything by hand. It takes more time to complete a single film because we have to draw more frames and more pictures. At the time of production of "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988), there were only eight animators, and it took eight months to finish with that number of people. The work of director Miyazaki currently working on is sixty."

"A human animator is involved, but I can only make 1 minute in a month, which means that I can only make 12 minutes a year. Actually, I have already spent three years making this work, so now however, it means that it is completed only in 36 minutes. I hope to complete it in three years."[7]

Kimi iki production

Miyazaki overseeing the painting of backgrounds.

In March 25, 2021, Suzuki revealed to Sight & Sound Magazine that half of the film's animation had been completed. "Around half the film’s 125 minutes are now animated", and he doesn't expect a release for another three years. He described the film as a “big, fantastical” work. When Miyazaki told Suzuki he wanted to come out of retirement, the producer insisted that he justify his comeback by trying something new. The result is that, exceptionally, the director is working at his own pace, exempt from the usual constraints of deadlines and budgets.[8]

In 2021, the novel became available in English.[9]

In November 23, 2021, an interview with the New York Times revealed scant details of the upcoming film. "Neither Miyazaki nor Suzuki will share much about the forthcoming film, beyond the fact that it is based on a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino... The actual content of the film could be anything — Suzuki has described it as “fantasy on a grand scale” — since Miyazaki doesn’t so much borrow stories as liberate them from their origins... All Suzuki will share is that he recognizes himself in one of the characters, who is not human." Towards the end of the interview, the author of the article, Ligaya Mishan, was allowed to ask Miyazaki one more question, "The title of your next film is 'how do you live'," “Will you give us the answer?”

Miyazaki's smile comes only after he speaks: “I am making this movie because I do not have the answer.”[10]

In November 2022, the film was completed.[11]

In June 2023, Studio Ghibli confirmed there would be no marketing material or trailers before the film's release. The film skipped premiere at different film festivals. No information about voice actors or the plot would be announced. Suzuki criticized American film marketing, being frustrated at how the majority of a film's story is revealed before its screening. The teaser poster was the only piece of information revealed before the film's release. [12]

While the film received no marketing, it was minorly promoted by Studio Ghibli on social media via the official X account, where the first poster was shared, along with slightly cryptic posts hinting at herons and warawara.


The film was release in Japan on July 14, 2023. On the same day, the English title for the film was announced as The Boy and the Heron for US release slated later this year.[13]

The film made its international debut at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. It made its USA premiere at the 61st New York Film Festival.


Matteo Watzky for Full Frontal described the film's narrative as difficult to assess and wrote, "One of the film’s most striking aspects, and perhaps what might make it a difficult watch for some, is how slow it is. [...] There is none of the exhilarating energy one might find in Laputa or even the density of Spirited Away‘s world: the sense of wonder is still there, but it is far more contemplative".[14]

On opening day in Shinjuku, the largest business district in Tokyo, dozens of of people lined up outside a cinema for the first screening. Multiple other cinemas had numerous people come and watch. [15]

Taichiro Yoshini, grandson of How Do You Live? author Genzaburo Yoshino, had attended a private screening of the film in February 2023, and had sat there in a daze, and struggled to digest the film’s messages. He also described the film as a “separate work” but perhaps share the same theme – How to live with oneself and accept a world characterized by conflict and loss.[16]

On December 13, 2022, Studio Ghibli announced the film's released date to be July 14, 2023 for theaters in Japan.[17]

It had its Canadian premiere at Toronto International Film Festival.

In the United States, it had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 1, 2023.

It was released in theatres in December 2023, and in January 2024, in some countries.

The film received the award for Best Animated Feature at the BAFTAs and at the Academy Awards.


  • This is the second Studio Ghibli film to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar and the first one since Spirited Away.