“The Boy and The Heron”

“The Boy and The Heron”

Photo credit: Kris Tripplaar

It comes as no surprise that The Boy and The Heron has earned a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The Motion Picture Association recently organized a special screening in collaboration with The Embassy of Japan highlighting and celebrating Japanese culture and cuisine.  Translation: A movie plus Wagyu beef sushi, dumplings and Saki. “ありがとう”  Look it up.

Before delving into the film, for those unfamiliar with herons, we’ve taken the liberty to provide a brief overview. Herons are sizable wading birds commonly located near water sources like rivers, lakes, or marshes. Recognized for their distinctive features, including long legs, necks, and bills, herons are specially equipped for hunting fish and other aquatic prey. You’re welcome.

About the film: Mahito, a young boy longing for his mother, embarks on a journey into a realm where the boundaries between the living and the dead blur. In this mystical world, death ceases to exist, giving rise to a fresh commencement of life.

Prior to the screening, we had the opportunity to chat with Ambassador Charles Rivkin, CEO MPA, to gain insights into the growing influence of Japanese animated films. Included are his comments as well preceding the film.

“On our cultural level, the bonds are increasing at an extremely rapid pace. When you think about the fact that the Mario Brothers movie did over a billion dollars; when you think about the fact that Godzilla Minus One, the new Godzilla film made by a Japanese studio, is the single highest grossing live action film in North American history is from Japan and you have Netflix which takes animation and turns it into live action, it’s become one of Netflix’s most successful television shows. There’s a fascination with Japanese culture and they’re a very good production partner for us with an incredible hub in that country. And there’s a commitment from the Japanese government to increase that collaboration. So we’re very excited about it.

One critic actually described this film as a, and I quote, hallucinatory parable for reckoning with grief and mortality. You don’t see that as a review very often in film, but bringing stories like this one to moviegoers in Japan and around the world is a top priority of the Motion Picture Association because Japan is the third largest box office on the planet, and it’s an incredibly important production hub for motion picture members as well. It drives and has a rapidly growing streaming market, which is incredibly important to us. So as you’re going to see for yourself tonight, once again, this country’s rich history. Its distinctive culture and its unique natural landscapes continue to provide limitless inspiration for fresh storytelling and unforgettable characters.

So as you enjoy tonight’s film, I would encourage you to think about the Boy, the Heron, not merely as a coming of age story, but to consider it as a call to the very actions that make us human, to mourn painful loss, to dream of a better future, to survive despite unimaginable pain, and ultimately to live as Mahito did.” Ambassador Rivkin

Ambassador Yamada with Ambassador Rivkin

“Nowadays, more and more people appreciate Japanese films, including animated films. Japan is a home of animation  and many people start to know Japanese culture through that. I think it is important for the people to understand each other through cultural experiences and film is a very good way  to introduce Japan to the people around the world. It’s a traditional way for Japan to express ourselves to the international audience.

I saw the film by myself just a couple weeks ago and I was very much struck by its beautiful drawings, its story reminding us of the importance of friendship and also as in many other Miyazaki films, it’s complexity. I’m sure you will leave this room very much moved, but at the same time, I’m sure you will spend some days afterwards thinking about the meaning of this film to yourself.

Film has become one of the pillars of Japanese soft power diplomacy and in fact I personally witnessed many occasions where the cultural exchanges, including film, contribute to mutual understanding between peoples when I was in charge of cultural exchanges of cultural affairs. In my earlier diplomatic career, it is said that Hollywood movies can offer us various aspects of US society and US culture. I’m convinced that Japanese films also provides similar opportunities to American people.” Ambassador Yamada