Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy And The Heron Release Date, Dub Cast, Trailer, Plot And More Details

Founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, Studio Ghibli is one of the most venerated animation studios in the world. The Japanese powerhouse has produced beloved classics like "My Neighbor Totoro," "Spirited Away," and "Howl's Moving Castle," endearing them to fans and critics alike. Nobody is more synonymous with Ghibli than Miyazaki, who has helmed some of the studio's most lauded and recognizable films. The auteur has retired a number of times over the years only to change his mind and return to the Ghibli fold. 2013's "The Wind Rises" was supposed to be his final film, but now, a decade later, he's back with another feature.

Miyazaki's latest (and, more than likely, his last) film is based on Genzaburo Yoshino's 1937 novel "How Do You Live?" It came out under that name in Japan, but the film will be released internationally as "The Boy and the Heron." What is the film about? Who is starring in it? And when will it be released in North America? Read on for everything you need to know about "The Boy and the Heron."

When will The Boy and the Heron be released?

Director Hayao Miyazaki began working on storyboards for "The Boy and the Heron" back in 2016, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki confirmed. When production got underway, it was a slow process, with Miyazaki reportedly directing a minute of animation every month. "We're experimenting with having no established deadline," said Suzuki (via Anime News Network). The film's release was at one point meant to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The games were delayed to the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Miyazaki's film still wasn't ready in time.

Another year would pass before fans got an official release date — in December 2022, Ghibli confirmed that Miyazaki's latest film would arrive in Japanese cinemas the following summer. The movie came out in Japan on July 14, 2023. GKIDS has acquired the rights to release the film in North America, and it will hit cinemas nationwide on December 8, 2023. "The Boy and the Heron" had its North American premiere at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival on September 7. The film headed to Spain's San Sebastian Festival a few weeks later, and its U.S. premiere came soon after that, at the 61st annual New York Film Festival. 

Who is starring in The Boy and the Heron?

"The Boy and the Heron" features a number of well-known Japanese voice actors, though the main character is played by a relative newcomer: 18-year-old Soma Santoki, who only started acting in 2019 and has less than half a dozen credits to his name. Kou Shibasaki (Mitsuko in "Battle Royale") and Masaki Suda (Shinpachi in "Gintama") also star, and there's a special appearance from Takuya Kimura (Susumu Kodai in "Space Battleship Yamato"). The rest of the cast includes Jun Fubuki (Pinako Rockbell in "Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar"), Karen Takizawa (Sei Sato in "Maria Watches Over Us"), Yoshino Kimura (Tigress in "Kung Fu Panda"), and many others.

The English dub cast is a star-studded affair. Christian Bale, who voiced the titular character in "Howl's Moving Castle," returns to the Studio Ghibli fold as Shoichi, father of the main character. His son is played by Luca Padovan, best known for his turn as Paco in the hit Netflix series "You." The mystical heron is being played by none other than Robert Pattinson. The rest of the main dub cast consists of Gemma Chan as Natsuko, Willem Dafoe as the Noble Pelican, Florence Pugh as Kiriko, Karen Fukuhara as Lady Himi, Dave Bautista as The Parakeet King, and Mark Hamill (who voiced antagonist Muska in the 1986 Studio Ghibli film "Laputa: Castle in the Sky") as Granduncle. Dan Stevens, Mamoudou Athie, and Tony Revolori are also part of the dub cast, playing the Parakeets.

Who is directing The Boy and the Heron?

"The Boy and the Heron" is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, whose directorial prowess was recently honored in Sight and Sound's Greatest Films of All Time poll. Both "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Spirited Away" earned spots on the coveted list.

"The Boy and the Heron" marks Miyazaki's first directorial effort since 2013's "The Wind Rises." It will be the filmmaker's 12th feature film — and his last, according to him. That said, Miyazaki has been known to tease the end of his filmmaking career time and time again. The director first announced his retirement in the late 1990s before returning to direct the Academy Award-winning "Spirited Away" in 2001. He retired again in 2013, then once more in 2018.

Producer Toshio Suzuki is skeptical as well. "I don't believe it," he said (via Anime News Network). "As long as he lives, [Miyazaki] will probably continue to make films." Whether it ends up being Miyazaki's swan song or just another entry in his impressive filmography, "The Boy and the Heron" is not to be missed. "If this is indeed Miyazaki's final film, then I can only thank him [...] for his many decades of creating some of the best animated fare in the world," said Unseen Japan's Noah Oskow in a review of the film.

What is the plot of The Boy and the Heron?

The book "How Do You Live?" follows a 15-year-old boy in Tokyo named Junichi Honda. The boy, whose father has died, has a close relationship with his uncle. Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book on a number of occasions, but his film is not a straight adaptation of the story. Instead, the esteemed filmmaker revealed that it's about someone who loves Yoshino's book. "He added that this book is a story that has great meaning to the protagonist of his film," reports Anime News Network.

It's not the first time that Miyazaki has been inspired by a book but taken the story in a different direction. "Howl's Moving Castle" was loosely based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, but differed from the source material in numerous ways — there's no war in the novel, for one. War is also a backdrop for "The Boy and the Heron," which is set during World War II and follows a boy whose mother died when Tokyo was bombed. Mahito moves to the countryside with his father, who decides to marry the pregnant sister of his late wife. This understandably upsets Mahito, who retreats into a fantasy world after a talking heron convinces him that his mother is still alive and residing there.

"The Boy and the Heron" also contains lots of Miyazaki's preferred themes and imagery. "There are the usual visual treats, like cute yet eerie creatures, great-looking food and gravity-defying flights of fancy," reported the BBC.

Is The Boy and the Heron based on a true story?

In addition to being loosely based on Genzaburo Yoshino's 1937 novel "How Do You Live?," Hayao Miyazaki's childhood may also play a role in the inspiration behind "The Boy and the Heron." The American distributor GKIDS described the film as "a semi-autobiographical fantasy," with many reviewers making connections between the director's life and the film's story. "He created this semi-autobiographical story I think really touches on so many aspects of his life, his relationships, and his thoughts in a really exciting, fantasy-adventure setting," GKIDS president Dave Jesteadt told Indiewire.

Like Mahito, Miyazaki's father is known to have been involved in the production of fighter planes. Similarly, Miyazaki's family also sought refuge from the Tokyo bombings by relocating to the Japanese countryside. Others have noted that the film's opening scene of a hospital fire is seen as a reflection of the loss of Miyazaki's mother, with whom he shared a strong bond and who was an influence on many of his female characters. Critics have also picked up on Miyazaki's signature motifs and recurring themes within the film. Taichiro Yoshino, the grandson of Genzaburo Yoshino, has described "The Boy and the Heron" as a "culmination" of Miyazaki's work.

Who is producing The Boy and the Heron?

"The Boy and the Heron" was produced by Studio Ghibli co-founder and stalwart Toshio Suzuki, whose relationship with Hayao Miyazaki stretches back before the formation of the studio. The pair first worked together on 1984's "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind," a hit anime based on Miyazaki's manga series of the same name. The success of that film led to Miyazaki and Suzuki creating a new studio along with Isao Takahata and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. While "Nausicaä" is often considered to be the unofficial first Studio Ghibli movie (it has been included in a number of DVD box set releases over the years), the first film to be released under the now famous banner was 1986's "Laputa: Castle in the Sky."

Suzuki and Miyazaki went on to work together on many occasions, including the director's most famous films: He produced Miyazaki's Oscar-winning classic "Spirited Away" as well as "Princess Mononoke," "Howl's Moving Castle," and "The Wind Rises." Suzuki's work as a producer has not been limited to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, however. Among his non-Ghibli projects is Mamoru Oshii's cyberpunk classic "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," which was invited to compete for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first anime film to earn this honor.

Who are The Boy and the Heron's animators?

Takeshi Honda, the animation director for "The Boy and the Heron," led the animation department alongside Hayao Miyazaki. Honda has previously worked with Miyazaki on acclaimed projects like "Ponyo" and "The Wind Rises." Beyond his work with Miyazaki, Honda is known for his contributions to the mecha anime "Evangelion" and Satoshi Kon's films such as "Tokyo Godfathers" and "Millennium Actress." 26 key animators worked on the film, most of whom have previously worked with Miyazaki at some point, including longtime collaborators Katsuya Kondō and Akihiko Yamashita.

In his previous projects, Miyazaki was known for his hands-on approach, overseeing every cut. However, in the case of "The Boy and the Heron," the film's producer, Toshio Suzuki, explained that Miyazaki took a somewhat more distant role. Instead of micromanaging the animation, Miyazaki chose to focus his time and energy on crafting the storyboards, entrusting Honda to supervise the animation process. 

Key animator Toshiyuki Inoue, who had also worked with Miyazaki on "Kiki's Delivery Service" several decades ago, corroborated this claim when comparing his two experiences working with the filmmaker. Inoue emphasized that while Honda played a significant role in supervising the animation, the majority of the designs for "The Boy and the Heron" still bore the unmistakable influence of Miyazaki.

An unconventional approach to marketing

Until the July 14, 2023 release of "The Boy and the Heron" in Japan, the only promotional material and press permitted about the film was a single poster drawn by Hayao Miyazaki himself. According to the mastermind behind this marketing strategy, Toshio Suzuki, he was tired of over-publicized releases and giving away too much of a movie. He wanted to create an experience where a viewer could go in blind with as little information as possible. "If I could do that, it would be a Hayao Miyazaki movie," he told Aera. Following the movie's premiere, it appears that Suzuki achieved exactly that, as numerous viewers attributed their extraordinary viewing experience to his unconventional marketing approach.

However, a new marketing strategy was implemented when Studio Ghibli granted promotional control to American distributor GKIDS — which planned to orchestrate the biggest release the company had ever seen. Keeping the film shrouded in secrecy became challenging, as it has already been screened at international venues and film festivals. "We're going to continue to find ways to both make sure that the film can reach its widest possible audience while staying true to a lot of the marketing and the integrity that Studio Ghibli has," GKIDS president Dave Jesteadt told Indiewire. As a result, GKIDS has chosen to proactively share key details, including an English-dubbed trailer.

Is there a trailer for The Boy and the Heron?

Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki made waves when he revealed that there were no initial plans to release a trailer for Hayao Miyazaki's "The Boy in the Heron." It was definitely a bold move to forgo all the usual methods of promoting a movie, but when you're a filmmaker as renowned as Miyazaki, people will flock to see your film regardless of whether they've seen a trailer or not. Suzuki was confident that this less-is-more approach would work, and he was right — despite the humid weather in Tokyo on the day the film dropped in cinemas, people were queuing up to see it. "I have no idea what to expect," 22-year-old college student Yoko Watabiki told Al Jazeera as she waited. "Like a lot of Japanese people, I grew up watching Miyazaki's films."

Once the film had been out for a while in Japan, a subtitled teaser trailer finally dropped online, kicking off the promotional run for the international release. The trailer made it clear that this is going to be one of Miyazaki's most hard-hitting movies to date, and not long after the English voice cast of the film was revealed, a dubbed trailer came out. While the dubbed trailer is careful not to spoil the plot, it showcases parts of the fantastical world that Mahito is transported to, reminding viewers that while the story may be dark in places, this is still very much a Miyazaki movie.

What is the runtime of The Boy and the Heron?

The runtime of "The Boy and the Heron" was confirmed by Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki long before the film came out in Japan. He revealed that it was going to be over two hours long, right up there with the longest films the studio has put out. "Including the opening and end credits, the full feature will be 125 minutes," Suzuki stated during a 2020 interview with Nippon.com. The runtime changed after Suzuki's interview, but not by much: As confirmed by Anime News and Facts, the film lasts for 124 minutes, which is the exact same runtime as Ghibli's Oscar-winning smash hit "Spirited Away."

There are a few Studio Ghibli movies that are even longer than this. Miyazaki's last full-length film "The Wind Rises" clocks in at 126 minutes, as does 1986's "Laputa: Castle in the Sky," a seminal movie that inspired both the steampunk and dieselpunk subgenres of anime. "Princess Mononoke" (which some fans think is better than "Spirited Away") is the second-longest Ghibli film at 133 minutes, while the title of longest Ghibli feature goes to "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya." Directed by the late Isao Takahata, a co-founder of the famous studio and a longtime friend of Miyazaki, "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" runs 137 minutes. It's over an hour longer than the shortest Ghibli movie, Miyazaki's "The Cat Returns."

Who composed the score for The Boy and the Heron?

Hayao Miyazaki's longtime collaborator, Joe Hisaishi, composed the musical score for "The Boy and the Heron." The soundtrack is comprised of 37 original compositions, including the film's theme song, "Spinning Globe" by Kenshi Yonezu. From simplistic piano ballads to captivating melodic strings, Hisaishi's score effectively sets the mood for the film. Hisaishi described his approach in a Crunchyroll interview: "For ['The Boy and the Heron'], I thought about the 'world' and the music I want to create. I want my music to capture the emotion and imagery as you watch the film." The soundtrack debuted in Japan on August 9, 2023, courtesy of Tokuma Japan Communications. Notably, compositions like "Great-Uncle's Thoughts" can be heard in the English-dubbed trailer.

Except for Miyazaki's first feature, 1979's "The Castle of Cagliostro," Hisaishi has worked on all of Miyazaki's films, beginning with their first collaboration for 1984's "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind." He's worked on more than 100 film scores and solo albums throughout his career and has won several Japanese Academy Awards for Best Music.

Who performs the theme song for The Boy and the Heron?

The main theme for "The Boy and the Heron" is performed by Japanese musician Kenshi Yonezu, though it remains to be seen whether his song — which is titled "Chikyūgi" ("Globe") — will be in the international version of the film, where it will be titled "Spinning Globe." You may not be familiar with Yonezu's name, but if you're an anime fan, then there's a chance you're familiar with his work: Yonezu has recorded theme songs for shows like "Chainsaw Man," "My Hero Academia," and "March Comes In like a Lion," to name but a few.

Yonezu's career began back in 2009 when he was just 18 years old. He started sharing music on the Japanese video-sharing website Nico Nico Douga (now known simply as Niconico) and quickly gained a following. His music and lyrics speak to young people, which is perhaps why he's been courted by anime producers so regularly.

"The core thing I pay most heed to is looking for the common points between myself and the other party," Yonezu said of his songwriting during an interview with Yahoo! Japan. "For instance, with 'Peace Sign,' which served as a theme song for 'My Hero Academia,' I recalled my own memories of watching my favorite anime 'Digimon Adventure' in grade school." Yonezu also does theme music for video games, most recently recording a song for "Final Fantasy XVI."

What will The Boy and the Heron be rated?

"The Boy and the Heron" has been given an MPAA rating of PG-13 for its depictions of violent content, bloody images, and smoking. Although many of Hayao Miyazaki's films are designed to appeal to a broad audience and are typically considered family-friendly, often receiving G and PG ratings, "The Boy and the Heron" is not the first of his works to be rated PG-13. The film joins the company of other PG-13-rated Miyazaki classics, such as "Princess Mononoke" and "The Wind Rises."

Judging from the trailer and reviews, "The Boy and the Heron" appears to occupy a middle ground in terms of mature content when compared to "Princess Mononoke" and "The Wind Rises," with the former being the more graphic of the two. The rating isn't too surprising given the nature of the film's themes, which deal heavily with death, mortality, and grief.

What are critics saying about The Boy and the Heron?

Those who have been lucky enough to see "The Boy and the Heron" in Japan have been generally enthusiastic about Miyazaki's latest film. It's not his best film by all accounts, but it's definitely a worthy entry in his impressive catalog if early reactions are anything to go by. The BBC's Matt Schley compared the film to Miyazaki classics "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Spirited Away" in his review, calling it "a coming-of-age tale in which a child must overcome his selfishness and learn to live for others." 

It's these elements that make "The Boy and the Heron" such an engrossing watch. "The film, for all its fantastical trappings, is the story of Mahito coming to accept what he still has — and fighting to make sure nothing more is taken away from him," said Anime News Network's Richard Eisenbeis. "It's a thematically powerful narrative — and one that uses visual storytelling far more than dialogue to get its message across." The feedback so far has been largely positive, and even those who didn't really connect with the picture admitted that it was technically brilliant. "I do not think that it will work for everyone — I'm not even sure it worked for me," Full Frontal's Matteo Watzky wrote. "But this difficulty and ambiguity might be its best quality, Miyazaki's ultimate showcase of talent, nuance and imagination."

How is The Boy and the Heron doing at the box office?

Despite the lack of trailers, "The Boy and the Heron" opened to record-breaking figures in Japan, based purely on the strength of the director's name and the reputation of Studio Ghibli. This proved that Toshio Suzuki's radical plan was a genius one. "In my opinion, in this age of so much information, the lack of information is entertainment," Suzuki said (via The Hollywood Reporter) when everyone — Miyazaki included — expressed concern. "I don't know if this will work. But as for me, I believe in it."

Suzuki was right: "The Boy and the Heron" posted the best opening in the history of Studio Ghibli, making 1.83 billion yen over its first weekend. For context, "Howl's Moving Castle" made 1.48 billion yen over the same period of time back in 2004. The latest Ghibli film also set a new IMAX record in Japan, making $1.7 million from Friday to Sunday. It might not seem like a huge figure, but Japanese moviegoing habits are a lot different to those in the States, with films earning money at a slower pace and staying longer in theaters as word of mouth spreads.

By the end of the first week of October 2023, the movie had made over 8.4 billion yen in Japan and the first signs of what is expected to be a strong overseas performance were showing. "The Boy and the Heron" dominated in South Korea over its opening weekend, and broke opening day records when it hit cineplexes in France.