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Studio Ghibli finally tells us why they didn't do any real promotion for Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and The Heron - and its bold

No trailer? No tagline? No problem.

The Boy and The Heron screenshot
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

Any film that has the names Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki attached to it will come with lofty expectations. The studio claims that its latest film, The Boy and The Heron, is one of the most expensive Japanese films ever made – animated or otherwise. With that much money and their reputation as one of the most beloved animation studios this side of Walt Disney on the line, you’d think Ghibli would pull out all the stops to promote the film. And yet, they didn’t. Not because they couldn't but because they simply didn't need to.

Ahead of The Boy and The Heron’s release, scant few details were available for it. Even its title changed less than a year before it hit cinemas. There were no billboards. No magazine covers. No interviews with the director or cast. There wasn’t even a proper trailer until after the film was released. All we had to go by was the title, a single image of a bird, and the fact that it was inspired by How Do You Live, a highly influential Japanese novel. Other than that, everything about The Boy and The Heron was kept tightly under wrap and that was entirely by design.

In an interview with Japanese television station NHK, Studio Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio explained that the minimalist approach to publicity was intended to let people go into the film with as few expectations as possible. “I don’t want people to watch the movie simply to confirm what they already know,” he said.

There is an air of rebellion in how Suzuki talks about the lack of promotion for The Boy and The Heron. He speaks with an almost lackadaisical attitude, explaining that the Princess Mononoke studio wanted to capture the feeling of going to see a movie as a child, when you don’t know everything about a movie before you buy your ticket.

“A poster and a title – that’s all we got when we were children. I enjoyed trying to imagine what a movie was about and I wanted to bring that feeling back.” Ghibli didn’t even include the all-important tagline in the minimalist poster for the film, instead letting viewers come up with one themselves after they had seen the film.

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If there is any director who could take such a huge risk by simply not promoting their work, it's Miyazaki, who is one of the most celebrated directors in animation history and a staunch opponent of a quiet retirement. Even with so few details released ahead of the film’s release, The Boy and The Heron has enjoyed remarkable success worldwide and is on track to become yet another box office win for Ghibli. We can't remember a marketing campaign (or lack thereof) quite like the one that Studio Ghibli put together for The Boy and The Heron.

All conventional wisdom says that it simply shouldn't work, that this should have been a rare misstep for the legendary filmmaker, a blemish on the otherwise sterling career of Miyazaki, and yet, here we are. The Boy and The Heron isn't making Spirited Away money but it is easily expected to pull a profit and it is likely to be a dominant force in the 2024 award season. In a world that is often so short on wonder, it shows that everyone is desperate for what could be their final dose of Miyazaki magic, something that no other animation studio – not even the infamous House of Mouse – can offer.

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