The return of an animation legend, after ten years of absence: the Japanese Hayao Miyazaki reopens the doors to his abundant imagination with The Boy and the Heron, a testamentary tale in theaters Wednesday November 1st.
The release of a new film from the director of My Neighbor Totoro (1998), Princess Mononoke (2000) or Spirited Away (2001) is always an event, but this one was all the more anticipated since Miyazaki, also director revered as secret, has already announced several times that he is retiring.
However, at 82 years old, the man who contributed - through the Ghibli studio that he founded - to giving animation its letters of nobility, shows with The Boy and the Heron that he retains his brilliance, and his techniques Old-fashioned 2D, in the age of triumphant computer-generated images. This tale full of dreaminess and magic, with a very detailed and sometimes dark plot, is a little less accessible, especially to younger people, than its great classics.
In the film, Miyazaki, born in 1941, the year of Pearl Harbor, goes back to a period that has haunted him since childhood, that of World War II. He often featured courageous young heroines. The hero of the film this time is a little boy, Mahito, who, in the first shots, observes the fire of the bombs falling on Tokyo and carrying away his mother. His father takes him to take refuge in the countryside, with an aunt. The little city dweller seeks his bearings in the large house, where around ten old women live together and which opens onto a vast garden, over which an imposing gray heron flies. At the bottom, a mysterious tower inhabited by an old man.
By opening the doors, the heron will propel him into a parallel and underground world, populated by a fantastic and frightening bestiary. Following in the footsteps of his mother's ghost, Mahito will learn more about his family history. Unleashed elements, magical animals, quests for origins... after The Wind Rises, which evoked the designer of Japanese fighter bombers, the film reconnects with the fundamentals of Hayao Miyazaki and references great classics, from Hitchcock to The King and The Bird by Paul Grimault (1953), including The Tomb of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata (1988). Should we see this film, which took more than five years of work, as a testament? Miyazaki himself seems to deliver some keys, through the character of an old man, guardian of the balance of a collapsing world, launched into the impossible quest for a successor.
The question of passing the baton has fascinated aficionados of Studio Ghibli for years, whose other co-founder, producer Toshio Suzuki, is 75 years old. The company's third father, director Isao Takahata, died in 2018 at age 82. Goro Miyazaki, the eldest son of the creator of Totoro and himself director of the studio's animated films, has sometimes been tipped to take over but does not wish to carry the responsibility of succession on his sole shoulders.
On the economic side, the question seems to have finally been resolved in September, with the purchase of the legendary studio by a television channel, Nippon TV. This long-time partner will become its major shareholder with 42.3% of the shares. Executives from the channel will join its management and Mr. Miyazaki will take on the role of honorary president. But, artistically, the master's legacy remains a question mark.