Will ‘The Boy and the Heron’ win Hayao Miyazaki an Oscars bookend?

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Studio Ghibli, like Western counterparts Disney, Pixar and the UK’s Aardman, is one of the most important animation studios in movie history. Since its first feature film, “Castle in the Sky” in 1986, Studio Ghibli (founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Isao Takahata, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma) has delivered two dozen thought-provoking tales beautifully rendered in a unique brand of animation. To date, its output has racked up have a lucky seven Oscar bids for Best Animated Feature.

“Spirited Away” was the first Studio Ghibli movie to break into the Academy Awards conversation and did so with aplomb in 2003. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (Miyazaki the recipient) over “Ice Age,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” and “Treasure Planet.”

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In 2006, Miyazaki was again nominated — this time for “Howl’s Moving Castle” alongside “Corpse Bride” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” with the latter movie, an Aardman creation, reigning victorious.

Miyazaki and Suzuki were the nominees in 2014 when Studio Ghibli returned to the Academy Awards after an eight-year absence with “The Wind Rises.” “Frozen” won that year while “The Croods,” “Despicable Me 2,” and “Ernest & Clementine” rounded out the nominees list.

Studio Ghibli was back in the hunt the following year with “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” This marked the first time Miyazaki wasn’t on the Oscars ballot for a Studio Ghibli film, with Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura contending. They were up against “Big Hero 6,” “The Boxtrolls,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and “Song of the Sea.” “Big Hero 6” won.

Studio Ghibli made it three nominations in three years in 2016 with “When Marnie Was There” securing an Oscar bid for Nishimura and Hiromasa Yonebayashi. They were nominated alongside “Anomalisa,” “Boy and the World,” and “Shaun the Sheep Movie” while Pixar powerhouse “Inside Out” took home the trophy.

“The Red Turtle” then made it four Oscar nominations in a row in 2017 with Suzuki and Michaël Dudok de Wit the recipients this time around. Disney’s “Zootopia” won the award that year while “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” and “My Life as a Courgette” were all also nominated.

That was Studio Ghibli’s last Oscar nomination until this year when Miyazaki made a triumphant return with “The Boy and the Heron” (titled “How Do We Live?” in some territories). He is nominated alongside Studio Ghibli co-founder Suzuki. They face stiff competition from “Elemental,” “Nimona,” “Robot Dreams,” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which is a sequel to the 2019 champ “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

It looks to be a tight two-horse race between “The Boy and the Heron” and “Across the Spider-Verse.” “The Boy and the Heron” won at the Golden Globes while “Across the Spider-Verse” emerged victorious at the Critics Choice Awards. Both films are nominated this weekend at the Annie Awards (February 17th) and the BAFTA Awards (February 18th). They could win one each and keep the two-horse race going or one film could claim both and push ahead as the Oscars favorite.

Whatever the case, this is surely the ideal scenario to reward Miyazaki one more time. It’s his final film and he is bowing out on what many are calling a masterpiece. Miyazaki won Studio Ghibli’s first and only Oscar all those years ago in 2003 with “Spirited Away.” It would be as poetic as a Studio Ghibli film itself if Miyazaki were to win an Oscar bookend for his final outing as a director here.

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