The dark heart of Japan’s new animated masterpiece

This time, however, it is a theme interwoven with Miyazaki’s own reflections on legacy. At one point during the film, an old man poignantly pleads with Mahito to take over this fantastical world he has created – represented here by a small tower of precariously balanced blocks – lest all of its wonder vanish forever. It is a scene that suggests a man coming to terms with his own mortality, with the idea that once he passes, there will be no one left who can balance the great blocks of Studio Ghibli. Or perhaps, without getting into specifics, the film’s ending suggests another interpretation: legacies, successors, even art itself, none of it actually matters. All that matters is that people – Miyazaki’s family, his friends, even the audience – continue to live on, to engage with the real world rather than retreat into fantasy.

“I don’t think he thinks of himself as carrying this torch of Japanese animation,” says Nishioka. “Nor does he dwell on his successor. But there are certainly times when he does think, ‘what is going to happen with Studio Ghibli after I’m gone?'”. The answer, adds Nishioka, will not be up to the old guard of Studio Ghibli, but to the younger generation, including Miyazaki’s 56-year-old son Goro. In a move reminiscent of Mahito himself, Goro, also an animation director, has declined to succeed his father at Studio Ghibli. Instead, Nishioka says, he will look after it in partnership with Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV, which recently acquired a majority stake in the studio. “Whatever they plan to do going forward, I don’t think it’s business for us to meddle in, but we have sown the seeds to give them choices,” he adds.

“[The future direction of the company] could be with the Ghibli Park [the theme park that opened in Japan last year]. It could be with new films that they will be producing and making.”

Acknowledging Miyazaki’s advancing age, Nishioka compares Studio Ghibli’s future with the state of US animation giant Disney during the 60s and 70s. “After Walt Disney passed away,” he says, “their business was quite low for about 10 years. But then they had producers, they had this new theme park. They were able to carve new pathways for themselves to not have to rely on just their classics. And I think, although I’m talking on a completely different scale here, Ghibli probably would do something like that.”

But of course, it is far too early, far too unlikely, to think about the unthinkable. After all, Hayao Miyazaki has another final film to make. 

The Boy and The Heron is out now in the US and is released in the UK on 26 December.

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