Studio Ghibli co-founder and producer Toshio Suzuki revealed just how personal Hayao Miyazaki’s new movie, known in English as The Boy and the Heron, is to the Award-winning director. According to Toshio, different characters are based on real people.
“Miyazaki is Mahito [the main character], [late Studio Ghibli director Isao] Takahata is the great uncle, and the gray heron is me,” he explained. “So I asked him why. He said [Takahata] discovered his talent and added him to the staff. I think Takahata-san was the one who helped him develop his ability. On the other hand, the relationship between the boy and the [heron] is a relationship where they don’t give in to each other, push and pull.”
Then Takahata died in 2018, in the middle of the movie being made.
“After Takahata passed away, [Miyazaki] wasn’t able to continue with that story, so he changed the narrative and it became the relationship between the boy and the Heron,” Suzuki stated. “And in his mind, initially, the Heron was something that symbolizes the eeriness of the mansion and that tower, even ominous, that he goes to during war time. But he changed it to this sort of budding friendship between the boy and the Heron.”
He went on, “So this time around, when the Heron became the centerpiece of the story, and he came with the storyboards, I was careful for him to not portray me in a bad way. Having said that, I’ve known Miyazaki for 45 years. I remember everything about him. There are things that only I know. There are things that only the two of us know. And he remembers all these small details, which I was very impressed with.”
But what about the uncle character? Suzuki admitted, “My question was: ‘So when is the great uncle going to appear?’ [Miyazaki] built this great character, but he never appears in the storyboards that he would bring me. But it took him actually about a year after the passing of Takahata that he was able to draw that character into the storyboards in the second half of the story. And the most surprising thing for me was when I saw the storyboard where Mahito was asked by his great uncle to carry on with this work, this legacy, and he says no — he declines the offer. Miyazaki was someone who followed the path of Takahata for so many years, and I thought it was a huge thing for him [to follow a different path].”
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, plus its sequel, Manga Art for Everyone, and the first-of-its-kind manga chalk book Chalk Art Manga, both illustrated by professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.