English Dub Cast Announced for Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron

English Dub Cast Announced for Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron

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Poster for The Boy and the Heron over blue background with words "English Dub Cast Announced" superimposed over images of feathers.
Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki Hayao's new The Boy and the Heron has its official English-language cast. As expected, it's a star studded affair.

Ever since Disney’s North American theatrical release of Miyazaki Hayao’s Princess Mononoke in 1999, celebrity voice casts have been the norm for English-language versions of the films of Studio Ghibli. That voice cast included the likes of Billy Bob Thornton as the morally grey monk Jigo; Claire Danes was the eponymous Princess Mononoke (San), and Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Keith David, Minnie Driver, and Billy Crudup rounded out the other primary characters. More than two decades on, the trend continues, with distributor GKIDS announcing a star-studded cast for the English dub of Miyazaki’s new The Boy and the Heron. (君たちはどう生きるか, “How Do You Live.”)

The Boy and the Heron, the first new film by legendary animation director Miyazaki Hayao in a decade, will release in North American theaters on December 8th. Prior to this, it will have a limited preview run starting on November 22nd. Theatrical showings will likely also include subtitled screenings of the original Japanese dub. As for the English-language version, here’s the list of cast and characters:

  • Luca Padovan as Mahito Maki
  • Robert Pattinson as The Gray Heron
  • Florence Pugh as Kiriko
  • Karen Fukuhara as Lady Himi
  • Gemma Chan as Natsuko
  • Christian Bale as Shoichi Maki
  • Dave Bautista as The Parakeet King
  • Willem Dafoe as Noble Pelican
  • Mark Hamill as Granduncle
  • Mamoudou Athie as Parakeet
  • Tony Revolori as Parakeet
  • Dan Stevens as Parakeet
Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki Hayao's new The Boy and the Heron has its official English-language cast. As expected, it's a star studded affair.
North American theatrical poster for The Boy and the Heron. © 2023 Studio Ghibli.

A Star-Studded Affair

The English cast includes many stand-out first-timers to a Ghibli dub, as well as some notable returnees. Luca Padovan portrays protagonist Mahito, whose mother recently died in an Allied firebombing and who has moved to the countryside with his father. While most of the cast consists of household names, Luca is a comparative unknown, having appeared in reoccurring roles on Netflix’s You and the Nickelodeon revival of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Playing Mahito’s industrious father, Shoichi, is Christian Bale, no stranger to Ghibli dubs. Bale famously played the wizard Howl himself in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). His version of the character was a major heartthrob for English-language Ghibli fans in the early 2000s. Notably, both Shoichi and Howl were played by the same actor in Japanese as well – the famed Kimura Takuya, former singer in the legendary boy band SMAP.

Robert Pattinson, a fellow Batman to Bale, portrays the film’s titular heron. This is his first appearance in a Ghibli film. So too for Gemma Chan, of Crazy Rich Asians and Eternals fame. Florence Pugh, another MCU alumn, plays the important character Kiriko. Meanwhile, Dave Bautista has a small but notable role as The Parakeet King.

Willem Dafoe and Mark Hamill are two more Ghibli dub returnees. Dafoe played the villainous Cobb in Miyazaki Goro’s Tales from Earthsea (2006). Hamill, on the other hand, is actually a third-time Ghibli cast member; he played a small role in Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), as well as memorable villain Muska in Castle in the Sky (1986).

First-timer Karen Fukuhara plays the important role of Himi. Fukuhara is notable as a rare example of someone of Japanese descent appearing in a Ghibli English dub. In live-action, she previously played the character Katana in the first Suicide Squad film, and also had a role in the Japan-set action film Bullet Train.

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Watch our spoiler-free review of The Boy and the Heron.

A Major Release During Trying Times

Anime News Network reports that this English dub, created in close cooperation with Studio Ghibli, was produced “in accordance with the SAG-AFTRA Foreign Dubbing Agreement.” With the SAG-AFTRA actor’s strike ongoing, this is an important factor to mention.

Also of note is accomplished voice actor Stephanie Sheh’s role as writer of the English script. The dub will be directed by Michael Sinterniklaas.

The Boy and the Heron has received major press coverage as Miyazaki’s assumed final film. Here in Japan, the movie has earned around $55 million at the box office following an impressive opening weekend. The movie was subject to a mysterious promotional campaign, with only a single teaser poster released prior to the film’s opening. While a relatively strong showing, the film’s take pales in comparison to that of older Ghibli films, and even compared to contemporary releases like One Piece Film: Red.

Most recently, Ghibli made a surprise announcement of its acquisition by long-time collaborator Nippon TV. The studio says it intends to continue making films under this new ownership, and that Miyazaki himself is already brainstorming ideas for his next production.

Studio Ponoc: The Ghibli Successor in Waiting

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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