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The Boy and the Heron The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki came out on top tonight in a highly competitive Oscar race for best animated feature.

Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron was one of the two frontrunners in the category, alongside Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, yet it was hardly a foregone conclusion that the Japanese filmmaker’s introspective and philosophical story would come out on top. Besides the fact that the film is an unlikely fit for this oft-disrespected category, Miyazaki himself made no zero effort to participate in the awards campaigning, which typically hurts a film’s chances.

But tonight proved to be a rare moment when the Academy didn’t base the animation award on any external factors like the personality of the filmmaker, the buzz surrounding the project or the celebrities attached to it – this was a year that truly honored the quality of the filmmaking itself. And that’s as it should be – a richly deserved honor for a living master of our art form.

Some key notes on the award:

* The Boy and the Heron marks only the second time in the history of this category that a hand-drawn 2d film has won the honor. The first time was 21 years ago, when Miyazaki won for Spirited Away.

* It marks only the second time in the history of this category that a fully-foreign production has won the Oscar. The first time was, again, 21 years ago, when Spirited Away won.

* At age 83, Miyazaki is the the oldest person to win the animated feature Oscar. The previous oldest person was also Miyazaki, who was 62 years old when he won for Spirited Away.

* The Boy and the Heron is the first PG-13-rated film to win the animated feature Oscar. All previous winners were rated either G or PG.

* This is lucky number 13 for U.S. distributor GKIDS. The company has been nominated an amazing 13 times in the feature animation category, but had not won the prize until tonight.

Neither Miyazaki nor producer Toshio Suzuki attended the ceremony to accept the award. Miyazaki didn’t attend the Oscars for his first win either. He later told the LA Times that the reason he didn’t attend in 2003 was over opposition to America’s attack on Iraq:

The reason I wasn’t here for the Academy Award was because I didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq. At the time, my producer shut me up and did not allow me to say that, but I don’t see him around today. By the way, my producer also shared in that feeling.

Miyazaki has not made a public statement about whether he didn’t attend this year’s ceremony for any particular reason. However, the following message from producer Toshio Suzuki was offered to the press:

As producer of The Boy and the Heron, I am extremely honored to receive the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Academy. 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 director Hayao Miyazaki retracting his retirement statement. Following that, we spent seven years in the production of this work. It has been ten years since Hayao Miyazaki’s previous film, The Wind Rises, during which time there have been dramatic changes in the environment surrounding films. This film was truly difficult 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 a considerable amount. 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.

In the animated short category, Dave Mullins’s War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko took the top prize. No major studios produced any of this year’s nomineees, but War is Over! offered big-studio production values as well as celebrity backing from Sean Ono Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Mullins himself was previously nominated for the Pixar short Lou. War is Over! is the first production from Electroleague, the studio that he co-founded with Brad Booker, who produced the film. The cg production on the film was handled by Wētā FX in New Zealand.

Capping off the animation categories, Godzilla Minus One pulled off an underdog win in the visual effects category. The award was shared by Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya, Masaki Takahashi, and Tatsuji Nojima. One of those people – Yamazaki – is also the director of the film, making him the first filmmaker to win the vfx honor since Stanley Kubrick did so in 1969 for 2001: A Space Odyssey. The low-budget Japanese film, whose vfx were made by a small group of around three dozen people, bested tentpoles with hundreds of vfx workers, including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.