Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki opens TIFF, a victory for animation

Sep 22, 2023 | News

Famed director and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, The Boy and the Heron, made its international debut to open the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 7.

It is the first time that a Japanese or animated film has opened the festival and is only one of two films that a director from outside of the U.S., Canada or Europe has been given the honour in the last decade.

The film first made its debut in Japan on July 14 before its screening at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 7 at TIFF’s opening night gala.

Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s films have a long history in the city with multiple films being screened at TIFF, including the Academy Award winning film Spirited Away (2002).

The work of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli has influenced many around the world to pursue animation and creative storytelling while opening doors for international and animated films.

Bekky O’Neil, a director, animator, writer and instructor at OCAD University and Loyalist College, said the films Miyazaki has created have inspired people to pursue storytelling.

“We’re looking at a generation now that’s really grown up watching his entire body of work,” O’Neil said.

“I think his work is inspirational on a number of different levels,” she said. “I don’t think it’s always students who want to create work like his but who want to create stories and are really interested in the narrative of his films.”

Being able to see a foreign filmmaker bring so much attention to this festival and to other films is important, said Gabriela Barros, an international student in the film program at York University.

“Opening a festival is such a privilege because they want the first one to be remarkable and I think just being chosen for that position gives you the validation that you actually made something important, something people want to watch, ” Barros said.

“Big companies from every country just come to watch the movies and they choose if they want to sponsor and share these movies in their own countries,” she said. “Festivals like TIFF just brings the attention to films that would normally not get enough exposure.”

Barros said having a major Asian artist representing their culture is important.

TIFF did not respond to Humber News’ request for comment at the time of publication.

Cyn Papia, a professional animator and freelance artist, said having Miyazaki debut internationally in Toronto is huge for animation and film in the city.

“Toronto does have a lot of studios and a lot of animation work going on in the city but to have something as grand as a Miyazaki film screened and debuting in the city, it’s amazing,” Papia said.

An art piece titled "Cupid" by Cyn. Photo Credit: CynniArts on Instagram

An art piece titled "Cupid" by Cyn. Photo Credit: CynniArts on Instagram Photo credit: Cyn Papia

Seeing a film like one of Miyazaki’s open TIFF sparks inspiration for many aspiring animators and industry professionals, Papia said.

“I feel like it all makes us want to reach our full potential with our careers and kind of be there one day,” they said.

“Personally, when I see animation, I want to do what the animators have done to me,” Papia said. “I think that it’s extremely influential to make people want to better themselves and just become great animators like they see on the screen.”

Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron is set to release in North America on Dec. 8.