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The Boy and the Heron film stills
Courtesy of Studio Ghibli

How Do You Live?: Everything we know about Studio Ghibli’s secret new film

Studio Ghibli have revealed the first look of Hayao Miyazaki’s mysterious final film The Boy And The Heron (aka How Do You Live?), releasing a series of still images from the movie

Nearly five years in the making, Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film The Boy And The Heron (aka How Do You Live?) hit Japanese cinemas on Friday (July 14). Nearly ten years since his last directorial offering – The Wind Rises in 2013 – the film is purportedly Miyazaki’s final ever release before retiring (though this hasn’t stopped the acclaimed anime creator from returning to the director’s chair before).

Miyazaki’s 12th film comes with little to no publicity apart from a title and a very ambiguous poster of a white and blue heron. Speaking to Japanese publication Bungei Shunju (via the Hollywood Reporter), producer Toshio Suzuki confirmed that this was an intentional move, announcing that How Do You Live? will be released with “no trailers or TV commercials at all… no newspaper ads either” because “deep down, I think this is what moviegoers latently desire”.

He added: “If you watch all [the trailers], you know everything that’s going to happen in that movie. So how do movie-goers feel about that? There must be people, who, after watching all the trailers, don’t want to actually go see the movie. So, I wanted to do the opposite of that.”

As of now, nobody outside of Japan has been able to see the film, with no confirmed UK and US release dates announced yet, increasing the air of mystery. However, Gkids has acquired the film for North America, so we can expect a release date sometime this year. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about How Do You Live? so far.


Inspired by Japanese author Genzaburo Yoshino’s coming-of-age classic How Do You Live?, Miyazaki’s film isn’t a direct adaptation – Ghibli says it’s an original story written and directed by Miyazaki. But this hasn’t stopped a surging interest in the book, prompting publishers to release an English translation back in 2021, as well as a new manga.

First published in 1937, How Do You Live? has been called a major influence by Miyazaki, who cites it as his favourite childhood book. The plot follows a 15-year-old boy called Mahito after his mother is killed during the war-time bombings in Tokyo. Digressing from the book’s plot, the film depicts Mahito meeting a heron who transports him to an alternate universe, where the mystery of his mother’s death comes to light. The book itself is also rumoured to make an appearance in Miyazaki’s film, though this, too, is cloaked in mystery. 


In 2017, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki announced that Miyazaki would be coming out of retirement to make a new film How Do You Live? for his grandson. “Miyazaki is making the film for his grandson. It’s his way of saying, ‘Grandpa is moving on to the next world, but he’s leaving behind this film,’” Suzuki said at the time.


According to Deadline, many Japanese reviewers have drawn parallels between the film’s plot and Miyazaki’s own upbringing, where his family escaped the Tokyo bombings for the Japanese countryside. Miyazaki‘s father also worked in a fighter plane factory, just like Mahito’s father in the film (airplanes are a recurring theme across the Ghibli catalogue, most notably in The Wind Rises and Porco Rosso). Miyazaki has also previously spoken about how an especially close relationship with his mother shaped him as a person and helped inspire the strong female leads that recur across his filmography.


Early reviews of the film hint at a film that’s visually stunning yet profoundly darker than Ghibli’s past releases, with themes of death and grief at the forefront. “Every frame of this film feels like a separate work of art – one that only becomes grander when put together as part of the greater whole,” wrote the Anime News Network, which describes the film as “truly astounding”.


It wouldn’t be a Studio Ghibli film without a score by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi. He’s the master behind the magical sounds in all but one of Miyazaki’s animated films (his debut feature, 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, which predated Studio Ghibli by six years), so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the acclaimed musician return for Miyazaki’s final goodbye. How Do You Live?’s soundtrack, like every part of the film’s roll-out, is highly secretive, so don’t expect any previews on the horizon. But if Hisaishi’s back-catalogue is anything to go by – he’s also behind the score for last year’s Totoro theatre adaptation – we’re in for a deeply magical ride.

Update (August 18): Studio Ghibli have finally released images from The Boy and the Heron, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement.

The film was theatrically released in Japan on July 14, and broke records at the domestic box office, grossing ¥1.8 million in its opening weekend (£9.8 million), and ¥7 billion overall (£37 million). The Boy and the Heron beat out previous Ghibli record holder Howl’s Moving Castle, which made ¥1.4 million in its opening weekend, to become the most successful film from the studio.

Outside of Japan, New York Film Festival has announced that The Boy and the Heron will be screened at their 61st edition, which takes place September 21-October 15. Although there’s been no confirmation of a UK release date, or any sign of a trailer, news of a US premiere can only mean good things for the film’s wider international release.

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