No hard feelings as anime movie wins award for only the second time ever, but does this mean more anime Oscars are on the way?

Cynics have contested that the animated feature Academy Award is really just “whatever Disney or Pixar released this year,” as those two entities have collectively taken home 15 of the 24 awards since the category was formed in 2001. Those numbers, though, show that occasionally a non-Disney/Pixar walks away with the honor, and on Sunday that’s exactly what happened as Studio Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

This is the second Academy Award for Ghibli, following 2002’s Spirited Away, which, like The Boy and the Heron, was directed by the studio’s legendary co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki. Neither Miyazaki nor The Boy and the Heron’s producer, Toshio Suzuki, were in attendance at the awards ceremony, held at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. The knee-jerk reaction to this might be to assume it’s another manifestation of Miyazaki’s distaste for traveling in general and lack of warm feeling for the U.S. in particular. He famously chose not to attend the ceremony the year in which Spirited Away was nominated in quiet protest to the U.S.’s involvement in the war in Iraq, and he didn’t show up when Howl’s Moving Castle or The Wind Rises were nominated either (though he did make the trip to the U.S. to accept an Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Governors Award in 2014).

However, Miyazaki and Suzuki’s absence this year wasn’t meant as a statement or admonition. Speaking through an interpreter, Ghibli chief operating officer Kiyofumi Nakajima, who was in L.A. to accept the award on the studio’s behalf, apologized and explained:

I would like to thank all the people who are connected to this film. We would like to apologize that the director, Hayao Miyazaki, and the producer, Toshio Suzuki, could not be here today. Please forgive them, they’re kind of up in the age bracket.

Miyazaki, as is his way, did not reach out to the media to make a statement following The Boy and the Heron’s win. Suzuki, though, as is his way, did, and quickly forwarded a message of thanks for Nakajima to read, which contained a declaration that though the movie is considered to likely be Miyazaki’s last feature-length work, Suzuki doesn’t see his own career as being over just yet.

We’re very honored to receive the Academy Award for best animated feature. We’d like to thank the Academy for this award. I would also like to give my thanks to those who were involved in the production of this film, and to all those who worked to distribute the film worldwide.

This film began with the retracting of the retirement statement that Hayao Miyazaki made. And following that we spent seven years producing this film. It has been 10 years since Miyazaki’s previous film, The Wind Rises, during which time there have been dramatic changes in the environment surrounding films. This was a truly difficult project to bring to completion. I am very appreciative that the work that was created after overcoming these difficulties has been seen by so many people around the world, and that it has received this recognition.

Both Hayao Miyazaki and I have aged considerably. I am grateful to receive such an honor at my age, and taking this as a message to continue our work, I will devote myself to work harder in the future. Thank you very much.

▼ Kiyofumi at the awards ceremony

The Boy and the Heron’s win raises the question of whether or not it’s a win for anime in general as an artform, but the answer is probably not. Yes, it’s the second work of Japanese animation to receive an Academy Award, but the total tally of anime films from any studio other than Ghibli to win the award remains zero. Even within the group of Ghibli nominations for Best Animated Feature, the studio is winless when Miyazaki isn’t in the director’s seat, with both The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There going home empty-handed.

▼ Sorry, Kaguya.

It’s also hard to entirely discount that The Boy and the Heron owes its win, to some extent, to it being likely the last chance for the Academy to salute Miyazaki, who directed half a dozen incredible Studio Ghibli anime films before gaining widespread international recognition or the creation of the Best Animated Feature category.

Then there’s the fact that Studio Ghibli occupies a unique space in the anime industry, in that it has no interest in keeping up current trends but yet still is able to secure, by industry standards, lavish funding for its projects. Generally, it’s the more bombastic, visually stylized theatrical features of established franchises already popular with otaku that have the money to produce jaw-dropping visuals, while more thematic or philosophical anime movies have to make do with modest budgets and the constraints that go along with them. Ghibli’s rare position of being able to present a more timeless, less “ANIME!”-looking film while still having the resources to make sure it looks incredible is a rarity in the industry, and until another anime studio can manage that, it’s probably going to continue to be an uphill battle for anime at the Oscars.

That said, The Boy and the Heron’s win still could be a nudge of the needle for anime recognition by the academy. It’s also the first movie to ever win the Best Animated Feature award with a PG-13 (parental guidance recommended for viewers under 13) age rating, which could open the door for other, more mature animated contenders in the category. The Boy and the Heron also breaks a 20-year streak of the award going to either a computer or stop-motion animated film, though, again, the only other hand-drawn nominee to win the award is Spirited Away, so this might not be so much a renewed appreciation for traditional animation so much as the Academy saying it’ll accept hand-drawn visuals only if they’re coming from Ghibli.

But those are all issues for future Academy Awards. For now, this is a great honor for The Boy and the Heron and everyone who worked on it.

Source: YouTube/Oscars
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: Studio Ghibli
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