Ten years have passed since the release of a feature picture by maybe the most well-known anime director of all time, Hayao Miyazaki. In 2013, Miyazaki himself was happy to step back from the spotlight and let The Wind Rises be the last movie he ever made. Naturally, this begs the question, “Why does How do You Live?” What propelled the 82-year-old man to take the director’s seat once more?
In a 2017 interview with Nichiyobi Bijitsukan, the Japanese TV show, producer Tomoshio Suzuki stated that the movie was made for Miyazaki’s grandson, implying that “Grandpa is moving onto the next world soon, but he is leaving this film behind.” And in all honesty, that’s what this movie is really about—coping with a loved one’s loss and moving on. Asking yourself, “How do you live on when someone you love is gone forever?” rather than just “How do you live?”
Mahito, our hero, is a good child—obedient and courteous. Though he shows his aunt and the many old people she looks after respect, he is internally self-destructive. He wants to go back to his old life with his mother and father in Tokyo, not to this new area where he doesn’t know anyone and where his father is already starting a new family with his aunt.
Initially, he takes it out on himself by fighting with himself after school and then inflicting a bleeding head wound on himself to avoid having to return. He then proceeds to strike at an object that is defenseless—the blue heron that resides in a nearby pond. This has a very clear message. These are clear external indicators of a disturbed child, then as well as now. Grief and pain are universal emotions, and the only way we can assist individuals in need is by identifying their symptoms.
Despite all of its supernatural elements, the movie tells the story of Mahito learning to appreciate what he still has and battling to prevent more from being taken from him. It’s a compelling story with a strong theme, and it conveys its point primarily through visual storytelling rather than conversation.
Even with such powerful ideas, the movie is nevertheless incredibly predictable a lot of the time. The movie’s overall theme and Mahito’s character development are clear from the first. The main plot twists are also readily apparent, particularly with regard to the characters’ true identities during Mahito’s quest.
The unpredictable aspect lies in everything else. The universe that Mahito visits is unlike any other, not even in the other films of Miyazaki’s kind. You never know where the movie will go next or who Mahito will encounter, from cities full of man-eating parrots to waters teeming with hideous fish. There is just one thing that is certain: Mahito has a mission, and he won’t go back home until it is completed.
Naturally, the animation contributes significantly to the potency of the fantasy components. It’s really amazing. This movie feels like a single frame, one that only really comes to life when combined to form a larger picture. You could watch this movie a hundred times and yet learn something new about the backstory of each scene. The way in which minute visual details, such as a heron flashing a toothy grin or wooden dolls quivering as though in sympathetic laughter, transform the movie from real to fantastical cannot be overstated. It’s a masterwork of animation unlike anything you’ve seen in the last ten years. Regarding the music, it is a fantastic match for the images.
Once again, Joe Hisaishi gives another Studio Ghibli movie his all, crafting a music that is both whimsical and suspenseful.
Overall, How do You Live? is a successful attempt at providing a roadmap for coping with the death of a loved one wrapped in a magical story. It is intended to reassure people experiencing similar emotions that they are not alone and to teach them how to make a meaningful contribution to the drastically altered environment in which they now live. Even if it is rather predictable at parts, it is undoubtedly the visual masterpiece that fans of Miyazaki’s films have come to expect, and it will undoubtedly become a classic in the years to come. Ultimately, even though it might not be the best of Miyazaki’s work, it’s still a fantastic movie and a respectable farewell for the director.