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Review: The Boy and the Heron (Cantonese Version, 2023)

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Review: The Boy and the Heron (Cantonese Version, 2023)
FILE PHOTO: The Screening of The Boy and the Heron (Cantonese Version, 2023) © Ryota Nakanishi

The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023) is revolutionary in its marketing strategy due to the total and deliberate boycott of Dentsu-Hakuhodo monopolies of the cross-fields narrative control of the entire Japanese environment. This was proven by Studio Ghibli’s international marketing practice in which non-Dentsu-Hakuhodo agencies of every foreign market were carefully chosen.


For Hong Kong, like any other place in the world where Japanese multinational companies operating, the domestic hegemons, Dentsu-Hakuhodo are normatively located here to serve only Japanese companies. Thus, Studio Ghibli authorized Intercontinental Group Holdings Ltd.’s Perfect Advertising & Production Co. Ltd.,PAPC to conduct its own Hong Kong-specific marketing strategy. This worked very well. And its practice itself is the most important message for filmmakers in Japan and Hong Kong.  


When I myself saw the end credit roll of this film, there is zero mention of the hegemons! This is the most impressive thing for me, as our own feature film was released nationwide ten years ago, we went through a similar path that ended in a massive negative campaign by the hegemons due to the absence of the ‘supposed’ contract to hire them for traditional advertisements.


As a result, our major creative crew members had to engage in self-defense countermeasures in return for the active distribution of our feature film in 2013. This is why I mostly esteem Dir. Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli in general. In short, The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023) is an eye-opener, a gift for filmmakers to seek independence from the hegemonic and mafia-like advertising hegemons. And Dir. Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli proved that it can be successful without advertising hegemons for a film release. In other words, this is more than film content, yet this is the content of the whole film project in terms of political economy. 


Before analyzing the narrative content itself, this ‘most expensive blockbuster film ever made in Japan’ is genuinely a film art that is deeply and stylistically rooted in European animation, especially the minimalist works of René Laloux like Fantastic Planet (1973) and The Snails (1966). Moreover, the only living film maestros of literal significance in quality are only Dir. Yoji Yamada and Dir. Hayao Miyazaki for Japan. And those true maestros are real film masters even without all the awards and decorations that the establishment can buy for them. With the release of The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023), Dir. Hayao Miyazaki exceeded Akira Kurosawa finally because Akira Kurosawa could not cancel Dentsu even in his last film, Madadayo (1993).  


In contrast to the Japanese right wing hysteria and paranoia in The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023), the film only deals with the episodic matter of the protagonist Mahito Maki’s evacuation to local area after the aggravated war situation of the mainland Japan, especially after the critical failure of the Guadalcanal campaign of early 1943 in which Japan totally lost the remnant of the offensive momentum against the allied forces in the Pacific. And the central trauma of the protagonist and the director is their mother’s death in the war. For the protagonist, Mahito Maki, longing for his supposedly war-killed mother, Hisako (his father is an air munition factory owner, a capitalist, Shoichi, who has newly married to Hisako’s younger sister, Natsuko).


The entire story is a variant of both The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Labyrinth (1986). In The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023), the protagonist Mahito Maki seeks his mother, Hisako (who appeared as a pyrokinetic girl, Lady Himi) and whose once-rejected stepmother, Natsuko, returns to his reality. The most important thing among all the narrative details is that Dir. Hayao Miyazaki finally denied the entire escapist shelter of another fantasy world in contrast to all his past films, while surrealistically approaching the fantasy in the multiverse way. Thus, the escapist heaven of the fantastic world of The Parakeet King and the Oz-like Granduncle is collapsed by violence and treachery by the antagonist, The Parakeet King, like what occurred in the politics of the real world of Mahito Maki during the war. Hence, in the multiverse, the Parakeet King (a caricature of both Hirohito and Tojo) and Imperial-Reiwa Japan are equalized. At the end, the audiences and the protagonist have to face the real world of themselves without the safe haven of the Parakeet Kingdom. There is nowhere frees from the evil invasion. 


In conclusion, by The Boy and the Heron / How Do You Live? (2023), Dir. Hayao Miyazaki totally denied the escapist haven at the end of this film, collapsed the multiverse fantasy world and urged us to face this real world which is equally full of The Parakeet King-like overlords and destruction. We don’t and shouldn’t indulge in an escapist haven.


Storm the Haven!





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