Hayao Miyazaki Paid Heartfelt Tribute to the Man Who Discovered His Talent Through One Mysterious Character in The Boy and the Heron

The film has been described as a semi-autobiographical epic of Miyazaki.

the boy and the heron


  • Hayao Miyazaki made his most personal film yet with the Oscar-winning anime film The Boy and the Heron.
  • The film reportedly has many references to the filmmaker's own life experiences and many characters are based on his own friends and family.
  • The character of Granduncle is reportedly based on Miyazaki's mentor and friend, the late Isao Takahata.
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Hayao Miyazaki has been regarded as one of the greatest animation filmmakers of all time. The animator has worked on several Studio Ghibli films, which he co-founded in the 1980s. His films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke have all been regarded as some of the best anime films of all time.


Miyazaki came out of his retirement to create his final epic The Boy and the Heron. The film was released last year and won many accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. While the film has many Easter Eggs that reference other films by Miyazaki, one of the most important characters is reportedly inspired by the animator’s mentor.

The Boy And The Heron Has A Reference to Hayao Miyazaki’s Mentor Isao Takahata

Mahito in a scene in from Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron
A still from Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki had announced his retirement after 2013’s The Wind Rises but decided to come back for one last swan song with The Boy and the Heron. The film follows the story of a boy named Mahito, who loses his mother and deals with grief by going into a mysterious world with fantastical creatures and magical events.


Similar to Miyazaki’s other films, The Boy and the Heron sees its protagonist deal with a complex emotion by entering a magical realm that helps him get over or come to terms with the traumatic event that triggered him. The film has also been regarded as one of the filmmaker’s most personal works to the point of it being semi-autobiographical.

The Granduncle in The Boy and the Heron
A still from Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron

Among the various references to his films and the people in his life is the character of the Granduncle, who is voiced by Shōhei Hino in the Japanese version and by Mark Hamill in the English dub. According to producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki, the character of Granduncle was based on Studio Ghibli’s co-founder and Miyazaki’s mentor Isao Takahata, who passed away in 2018. Suzuki told EW,

“In Miyazaki’s mind, the old wizard character is Isao Takahata, Miyazaki’s senior animator who actually discovered his talent.”

The film reportedly also has a reference to Takahata’s acclaimed film Grave of the Fireflies in its opening scenes, which depict the American bombing of Japan during World War II. Takahata was a senior animator and mentor to Miyazaki and directed films such as Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday.


Isao Takahata Was A Huge Inspiration For Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata | Credits: Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata | Credits: Studio Ghibli

Hayao Miyazaki is known worldwide for being the creative genius behind many of Studio Ghibli’s most successful films. However, the filmmaker founded the studio with producer Toshio Suzuki and animator and director Isao Takahata, who was a mentor to Miyazaki in his early years as an animator. Takahata is known for his films Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday.

Miyazaki has often cited Takahata as an inspiration to him, though the filmmaker was notorious for being a taskmaster and taking a long time for production. At Takahata’s memorial, Miyazaki mentioned the times when he and Takahata, known as Paku-san, would talk about various ideas till dawn and recounted anecdotes about the late animator.

According to Suzuki, the characters of the Granduncle and the Parakeet King were based on the two animators themselves in The Boy and the Heron. He told EW,


“I’ll tell you a secret: Miyazaki’s favorite character from the film is actually the Parakeet King. The model of that character is himself: his personality, expressions, and his bearing, as well as what he does and what he says. The relationship between the Granduncle and the Parakeet King is Takahata and Miyazaki.”

Isao Takahata sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 82 in 2018. His final film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.


Written by Nishanth A

Articles Published: 977

Nishanth A is a Media, English and Psychology graduate from Bangalore. He is an avid DC fanboy and loves the films of Christopher Nolan. He has published over 400 articles on FandomWire. When he's not fixating on the entire filmography of a director, he tries to write and direct films.