There are as many factors working in the Hayao Miyazaki movie’s favor as there are working against it on the path to becoming the second-ever Academy Award-winning anime.

With nearly half a year having passed since the release of Studio Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron (or How Do You Live?, to use the translation of the anime’s Japanese title) in Japanese theaters, the buzz had largely quieted down about the movie within its country of origin. The chatter has picked up once again, though, thanks to director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest theatrical anime picking up the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Announced at the 81st Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Sunday, The Boy and the Heron is the first Japanese movie to win the Best Animated Feature Film prize, which was established in 2006.

In the studio’s typically nonchalant manner, veteran Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki was apparently relaxing at home, wearing a sweatshirt, athletic pants, and no shoes, when the ceremony’s hosts revealed The Boy and the Heron’s win, as shown in this video shared by his daughter.

That’s not to say Suzuki didn’t appreciate the honor, however, as shown in a statement from the director released via The Boy and the Heron’s North American distributor, GKIDS, that reads:

I am very happy to hear the news that The Boy and the Heron has received an award at the historic Golden Globe Awards. This is the first Golden Globe awarded to a Studio Ghibli film and it is a very special feeling.

Since the beginning of this year, Japan has been hit by a series of tragic earthquakes and accidents. When I hear the reports of many people still waiting for rescue in the disaster areas, I am filled with a sense of despair. In such a situation, I hope the bright new of winning an award can bring a smile to everyone’s face, even if only a little. Together with our U.S. distribution partners, we look forward to further success with The Boy and the Heron. Thank you very much to the Golden Globes for this honor.

The question now becomes whether or not The Boy and the Heron can also win an Oscar.

An anime receiving the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature wouldn’t be unprecedented, as that feat was famously accomplished by Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2002. On the other hand, no other anime has won the award in the 20-plus years since, and the most recent one to even be nominated in the category was Mirai in 2018. Even Miyazaki himself directing hasn’t meant an automatic nomination for Best Animated Feature. Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises were nominated (in 2005 and 2013, respectively), but Ponyo was not.

▼ Sorry, Ponyo.

However, there are two major factors working in The Boy and the Heron’s favor, as far as its Oscar nomination prospects are concerned. First, although Miyazaki hasn’t made any formal announcement to the effect that he’s retiring (and not that anyone would believe him even if he had, seeing as he’s already come out of retirement twice in his career), there’s a sense that, realistically, The Boy and the Heron will be Miyazaki’s final full-length theatrical anime. Between his legendary perfectionism and hands-on directing style, Miyazaki’s movies are neither quick nor easy to make, and with the director turning 83 last week, it’s unlikely that he’ll have the time and energy for another masterpiece-caliber production, and equally unlikely that he’d settle for anything else. The idea that The Boy and the Heron is Miyazaki’s last hurrah is likely to earn it plenty of attention and goodwill from the Academy members, and easily enough for a Best Animated Feature nomination.

There’s also the fact that the Oscar competition isn’t likely to be particularly tough this year. Looking at the competing nominees in the Golden Globes Best Animated Feature Film category, The Boy and the Heron beat out Disney’s Wish, Pixar’s Elemental, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and fellow anime Suzume. Assuming a similar field for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, though Disney and Pixar have routinely had a strong hold on voters’ hearts and minds, both critical and audience reactions to Wish and Elemental have been lukewarm. Immense crowd-pleaser it may have been, The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t really have the sort of thematic focus, avantgarde visual style, and/or adherence to the “adolescent protagonist learns about life with periodic musical numbers” format popularized by Disney that tend to sway voters in the category. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a sequel, which, How to Train Your Dragon 2’s and Toy Story 3’s wins notwithstanding, usually tends to give a film an uphill road unless it’s doing something dramatically different than previous installments in the series. Finally, Suzume hasn’t really generated a lot of interest outside of Japan with mainstream audiences and critics, so odds are it’d be overshadowed by The Boy and the Heron, assuming it’s even nominated alongside the Ghibli movie.

All that said, there are two not-insignificant hurdles The Boy and the Heron will need to clear. First is the fact that it’s rated PG-13, the Motion Picture Association rating indicating “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” It’s not an undeserved rating by U.S. societal standards (The Boy and the Heron includes scenes of violence and bloodshed, and death is a more or less constant element of its theme and plot), but no film with such a high age rating has ever won the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

▼ Spirited Away was rated PG, one age rating below PG-13, as were fellow Best Animated Feature Oscar winners Shrek and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Another potential stumbling block is that, while The Boy and the Heron is consistently stunning from a visual standpoint, many who’ve seen the movie and love it will tell you that no small part of their appreciation for it comes from seeing the movie’s plot and characters as metaphors for Miyazaki’s reflections on his career, and the creative output of Studio Ghibli as a whole. For those who aren’t just fans of Miyazaki’s works, but who are also fascinated by the man himself and the company he co-founded, there’s far more to chew on, mentally speaking, while watching The Boy and the Heron. For viewers who are unaware of, or unconcerned with, those allegorical elements, though, The Boy and the Heron’s messages might come across as muddled or unfinished, which could hurt its ability to emotionally resonate with those Academy voters who are evaluating it on its own merits as a movie, not the potential farewell statement from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli as a whole as the company is transferred to its new owners.

Much like the anime itself, there are a lot of complex things going on in terms of The Boy and the Heron’s Oscar chances. Just as every movie-goer seems to have their own personal interpretation of Miyazaki’s latest, it’s unlikely that any two members of the Academy will have the exact same feelings about it, making it hard to predict if it’ll become the second Academy Award-winning anime, but for now January 23, when the nominations are scheduled to be announced, will be the first step in that direction it needs to take.

Source: Twitter/@GKIDSfilms
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: Studio Ghibli (1, 2, 3)
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s thankful to his mom for taking him to see My Neighbor Totoro in the theater.