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Double Oscars show the power of visual images in Japanese films; Miyazaki enjoys the victory

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshio Suzuki, producer of ‘The Boy and the Heron’, expresses his joy at winning an Oscar for the film at Studio Ghibli in Koganei, Tokyo, on Monday.

LOS ANGELES – The triumph of two Japanese films at the 96th Academy Awards showed that Japan can compete not only in animated film, where the country is widely recognized as a standout, but also in visual effects, a stronghold of Hollywood -movies.

“Kimitachi wa Do Ikiruka” (“The Boy and the Heron”), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, won the award in the animated film category, while “Godzilla Minus One,” directed by Takashi Yamazaki, won the award for best visual effects.

“Godzilla Minus One” became the first Asian film to win in the visual effects category, whose previous winners include epics such as “Avatar” and “Titanic.” The latest Godzilla film featured prominently in local media’s Oscar predictions and remained strong to win the coveted award.

Since its release in Japan last November, the film has attracted attention for its story, which seems to resonate with the current period of nuclear crisis. Godzilla is said to have been born as a result of a hydrogen bomb experiment.

“It’s a story about pacifying Godzilla, who is a symbol of war and nuclear weapons, instead of killing him,” Yamazaki, 59, said at a news conference after the awards ceremony. “I think part of the film’s success comes from the fact that the world wants to end it [wars and nuclear issues]one way or the other.”

Godzilla as depicted through computer graphics is stunning on screen, and the characters confront the monster with wisdom and solidarity. Their story seems to have captivated the hearts of audiences across borders. Worldwide box office revenue has surpassed ¥16 billion. The film has also been praised for the way it achieved a technical mastery of visual expression comparable to many better financed productions. Although the cost has not been made public, some sources say it was only one-tenth of an average Hollywood film.

Miyazaki, 83, won the prize in the animated film category for the second time. “The Boy and the Heron” won its de facto duel against “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which was seen as a strong contender. Miyazaki’s film had lost to “Spider-Man” at the Annie Awards, which give prestigious honors to the animated film industry, but he turned the tables at the Academy Awards, whose organizers have increased diversity among voting members.

Miyazaki is known for his very distinctive method. He does not write a script, but creates the story by drawing a storyboard. As elaborate 3D computer-generated animation becomes mainstream, it took him and his staff seven years to produce “The Boy and the Heron” the old-fashioned way. It seems the film’s hand-drawn allure, which typifies much of Japanese animation, has won over viewers.

Toshio Suzuki, producer of “The Boy and the Heron,” held a press conference Monday at Studio Ghibli in Koganei, Tokyo, where he revealed Miyazaki’s reaction to the award.

“He was really happy. He was excited,” Suzuki said of Miyazaki’s reaction when he spoke to him on the phone.

In 2013, Miyazaki announced his retirement. Apparently he later announced to Suzuki his intention to create the latest work. “It’s embarrassing, but I want to make another movie,” he said. It then took him seven years to complete the film.

“He was more concerned than ever about how this film would be received by people,” Suzuki said.

“[‘The Boy and the Heron’] lost to ‘Spider-Man’ at the Annie Awards, whose voters come mainly from North America, but it showed its strength at the Academy Awards, where an increasing number of voters come from outside North America,” said Yuki Saruwatari, a film producer, journalist based in Los Angeles. The film “was also helped by its newsworthiness, as it will likely be Miyazaki’s last work.”

As for “Godzilla Minus One,” she said, “The production team produced a high-quality work, comparable to Hollywood, with a smaller staff and a budget an order of magnitude lower.”

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From left: Tatsuji Nojima, Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya and Masaki Takahashi, winners of the best visual effects award for “Godzilla Minus One,” attend the Governors Ball after the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.


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