Fans of animation (and cinema as a whole) were delighted in 2016 when Hayao Miyazaki announced that he was delaying his long-planned retirement yet again to work on another feature film, “The Boy and the Heron.” Seven years later, the wait to see the legendary auteur’s latest work is almost over — the film is already playing in theaters in Japan, and it’s set to open the Toronto International Film Festival before launching an American theatrical run later this year. But American audiences have had few opportunities to learn about the film, as Studio Ghibli took the unorthodox step of rolling it out in Japan without releasing trailers, images, or synopses.
The strategy is a testament to Miyazaki’s pedigree and ability to attract an audience regardless of his film’s subject matter. It also demonstrates Studio Ghibli’s commitment to offering audiences a pure theatrical experience by allowing Miyazaki’s true fans to enjoy the film unspoiled.
But as “The Boy and the Heron” inches closer to its still-unannounced American theatrical release date, the studio has begun to take steps that mirror a more traditional marketing strategy. More festival showings have been announced (in addition to Toronto, the film is also set to open the San Sebastian Film Festival and make its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival), and a set of official stills have been released.
The New York Film Festival website has also published the most detailed synopses of the film to date. “While the Second World War rages, the teenage Mahito, haunted by his mother’s tragic death, is relocated from Tokyo to the serene rural home of his new stepmother Natsuko, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the boy’s mother,” the synopsis reads. “As he tries to adjust, this strange new world grows even stranger following the appearance of a persistent gray heron, who perplexes and bedevils Mahito, dubbing him the “long-awaited one.” Indeed, an extraordinary and grand fate is in store for our young hero, who must journey to a subterranean alternate reality in the hopes of saving Natsuko—and perhaps himself.”
Check out the official stills from “The Boy and the Heron” below.