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Movie Review: 'The Boy and the Heron'

Another Miyazaki Masterpiece

By Sean PatrickPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
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The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Directed by Hiyao Miyazaki

Written by Hiyao Miyazaki

Starring Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Aimyon, Yoshino Kimura

Release Date December 8th, 2023

Published December7th, 2023

In 2013 it appeared that the gorgeous and utterly brilliant film, The Wind Rises, would be the last animated feature film from Hiyao Miyazaki. It appeared that at the age of 72, Miyazaki was ready to step away from his home studio, Studio Ghibli, and spend his days curating the Studio Ghibli catalogue and museum presentations. Three years into his retirement however, Miyazaki got a story in his head and he could not shake it. In 2016, Miyazaki began working in secret on what would become The Boy and the Heron, another lovely, graceful, and gorgeous exploration of childhood grief, sadness, and recovery. No surprise, it's another work of genius from perhaps the finest director of animated features ever.

The Boy and the Heron features the voice of Somo Santoki as Mahito, a boy who lost his mother in World War 2. The hospital where Mahito's mother worked was bombed and she was killed in the blast. Soon after, Mahito's father moves himself and his son out of Tokyo to a village on the outskirts where he has a factory. More importantly, this is where his wife's sister, Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura), is living and preparing to have a baby. Natsuko will provide a motherly presence for Mahito at a time when he needs such an influence.

Of course, this won't be an easy transition. The relationship between Mahito and Natsuko is troubled early on, especially with Mahito's father spending most of his time at his factory where he is manufacturing parts for planes that will be going to war. As Mahito and Natsuko struggle to find common ground, Mahito's attention is captured by a Grey Heron (Masaki Sudo), who cryptically keeps showing up in the house and seemingly trying to capture Mahito's attention. The Grey Heron eventually speaks to Mahito and promises that he can take Mahito to a place where he can see and speak to his late mother.

A strange tower on the family land leads to a mystical and often frightening realm somewhere in between life and death. Traveling into this mystical realm, Mahito will get a chance to see his mother again and interact with her. But, he's also drawn here because Natsuko has been drawn here as well and is being held captive. Mahito wants to save the woman who has become a new mother to him and is about to give birth to a child who will be Mahito's new little brother or sister. Assisting Mahito in this strange realm is Kiriko, one of Natsuko's elderly hand maidens who is returned to her youthful self in this world. Here she oversees the beginning of new life while protecting pre-born souls from from desperate pelicans somehow trapped in this realm.

Yes, it's strange and esoteric but in the classically dreamlike fashion we've come to know from the master animator, Miyazaki. In the hands of Miyazaki, terrifying images of aging and decay take on an unmatched beauty. There are genuinely haunting and frightening images in The Boy and the Heron but they are in no way gratuitous. Rather, Miyazaki employs images like a woman melting into a pool fluid or ravenous pelicans threatening to overtake and devour our young hero, and gives these images a beauty and message beyond mere fright. It's as if Miyazaki were able to transmit the imagination of a child directly onto the screen, nightmare and beautiful dreams alike.

The Boy and the Heron is an emotional and magical adventure, a cathartic and beautifully sad story of loss and grief and coping. It's about how trauma can break a family and still bring them together. And it's about the fears of childhood resolving into the growth of young adulthood, important lessons learned that come to shape who we will become. It's a hopeful vision that even those who have suffered the greatest losses can still find ways to learn from and grow from those losses, incorporating the positive and negative feelings into the wisdom that comes as you get older.

Few, if any, filmmakers are as capable of assembling stories and striking images quite like Miyazaki. His innate genius for nightmare imagery, dreamy, beautiful imagery, and the striking imagination of youth is unmatched. Miyazaki is an entertainer and a wise teacher. He draws children to his work with its astonishingly beautiful animation while using his inventive characters to quietly teach young audiences and older audiences long lasting messages about coping with loss and the inevitable sadness's that come with growing up. The beauty of his work is reminding us that beauty is all around us, even when our world is the darkest it can be.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing here on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Comments (2)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran3 months ago

    You know what, until now I've never watched anything from Studio Ghibli. I think I'll start with this!

  • Melissa Ingoldsby3 months ago

    I love his films👏❤️great review you have an innate passion for Cinema and it shows

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