Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” will serve as the Opening Night Gala Presentation at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF organizers announced on Thursday. It is the first time in the 48-year history of the festival that Japanese feature has opened the festivities, as well as the first time an animated film has been honored in such a fashion.
“We are honored to open the 48th Toronto International Film Festival with the work of one of cinema’s greatest artists,” said TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey in a statement. “Already acclaimed as a masterpiece in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s new film begins as a simple story of loss and love and rises to a staggering work of imagination. I look forward to our audience discovering its mysteries for themselves, but I can promise a singular, transformative experience.”
Written and directed by Miyazaki, the hand-drawn animated film is his first feature in 10 years and, at 82-years-old, allegedly the filmmaker’s final project.
“The Boy and the Heron” opened in Japan on July 14 without images, trailers, synopses, advertisements or additional information available prior to its release. GKIDS, which is handling the film’s North American distribution, is also opting not to release additional promotional details about the film at this time.
Based on reviews out of Japan, the film takes its title from a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino but tells an original story about a 12-year-old boy who escapes into a fantastical world with the help of a talking heron after the death of his mother in World War II.
TIFF is no stranger to Studio Ghibli offerings, with previous festivals featuring “The Red Turtle” (2016), “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2014), “The Wind Rises” (2013), “From Up on Poppy Hill” (2011), “Spirited Away” (2002) and “Princess Mononoke” (1999).
Meanwhile, this year’s festival continues to take shape. On Monday, organizers announced the festival’s first batch of films in its Gala and Special Presentations sections, including directorial efforts by actors Michael Keaton, Chris Pine, Viggo Mortensen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ethan Hawke, Tony Goldwyn and Anna Kendrick.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place Sept. 7–17, 2023
“The Boy and the Heron” will be released in North America later this year.